What do U.S. healthcare professionals earn?

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As the heated debate over health care continues, there has been plenty of talk about how the U.S. system stacks up to that of other countries, and how much American doctors earn compared with M.D.s in other parts of the world. But, how do salaries compare across the spectrum of jobs within the U.S. health care system? TIME turned to the folks at PayScale, a company that tracks compensation data, to find out.


[time-google-chart id=”healthcarepay-wellness”]

(Go here for the chart with clickable bars showing salary data for each profession.)

The data above were compiled between January and August of this year, and were limited to full-time employees with at least five years experience, and physicians and surgeons who have completed their medical residency and training. “Median” pay signifies the 50th percentile of annual compensation—meaning that half of the people with the same job earn less, and half earn more. For example, while the median pay reported for orthopedic surgeons is $315,000, according to this report from Merrit Hawkins & Associates, a recruiting and consulting firm for doctors, in 2008 orthopedic surgeons’ salaries ranged from $250,000 to $750,000. Similarly, while neurosurgeons’ median pay this year is $374,000, according to a similar report from 2007 that year the range of salaries was from $350,000 to $850,000.

Additionally, the salaries included in the chart are for employees, meaning that health care providers with private practices may not be represented. Also, for hospital directors, another element to factor in to salary is the size of their particular institution. For example, according to PayScale data, a hospital president who runs a 50-bed institution earns median pay of $122,000, compared with a director of a hospital twice the size, whose median compensation is about twice as much, or $243,000.

For years, a recurring theme in criticisms of the U.S. health care system is that our doctors—specialists in particular—are paid too much. In fact, the big difference in compensation between specialists and primary care doctors, such as pediatricians and general practitioners, is something that has been repeatedly blamed for the increasingly short supply of primary care providers. Precisely at the moment that young doctors are applying for residency programs and deciding on specialties, most are also facing the reality of some $140,000 in student loans. According to the PayScale data, the median salary for a family doctor is $151,000; a pediatrician, $155,000. Median salaries for specialists, however, are around $300,000 and up. Perhaps that helps explain why, in the last decade, the number of medical students pursuing primary care has dropped by more than 50%.

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