Physician Satisfaction in the United States

Physicians are some of the most respected members of society today. However, working as a physician presents a unique set of benefits and challenges. Physician satisfaction indicators shed light on what physicians think about their jobs. They also provide valuable insight into the quality of work conditions and compensation that different medical specialties can provide.

Measuring physician satisfaction differs based on what providers value most. Most doctor job satisfaction surveys compare compensation, specialty, hours on the job, rewarding aspects and challenges in the profession.

The happiest physician specialties

72% of physicians are satisfied with their jobs, according to the recent American Medical Association National Burnout Benchmarking Report.

The report shared that the happiest doctors outside the workplace were those in:

  • Pulmonology medicine (89%)
  • Pediatrics, emergency medicine and orthopedics (87%)
  • Radiology and critical care (86%)
  • Plastic surgery, dermatology, ophthalmology, pathology, anesthesiology and family medicine (85%)

Plastic surgeons are the happiest of specialists, according to the 2023 Medscape “Plastic Surgeon Lifestyle, Happiness and Burnout Report.” Other specialties that generate a high level of physician happiness include:

  • Public health and preventative medicine (69%)
  • Otolaryngology and orthopedics (65%)
  • Physical medicine, rehabilitation and urology (63%)
  • Pathology and gastroenterology (62%)

Physician compensation in the U.S.

A variety of factors influence the compensation of physicians, including geographic location, specialty, gender and bonuses. A high salary can play a large part in how satisfied doctors feel with their jobs. Being well-paid recognizes the hard work and long hours physicians put in for their patients and employers.

Physician salaries vary by location

The highest median salaries for physicians are in rural areas, according to Physicians Thrive’s “2023 Physician Compensation Report.” Many rural areas pay well to attract medical talent to their areas.

Regionally, physicians in the West and Midwest earn the highest salaries, while East Coast salaries are the lowest in the United States. The report explained the lower pay rates on the East Coast as a supply and demand issue. There tend to be more physicians practicing medicine on the East Coast. Therefore, other regions must pay higher salaries to attract them.

The top 10 states with the highest median salary for physicians include Kentucky, Tennessee, Alabama, Missouri, Oregon, Indiana, North Carolina, Connecticut, Texas and Florida.

The top metro areas paying the highest physician salaries are Charlotte, St. Louis, Buffalo, Jacksonville, Orlando, Minneapolis, Milwaukee, Phoenix, Dallas and Los Angeles.

The lowest-paying metro areas include Baltimore, Providence, San Antonio, Washington D.C., Boston, Portland, Denver, Philadelphia, Birmingham and Detroit.

The Physicians Thrive report also examined the median salaries of doctors in high-paying specialties like cardiology, orthopedic surgery, neurological surgery and urology. The data showed significant differences in pay in each of these specialties based on the region where they work.

Physician specialty affects compensation

Different specialties require different educational requirements and, as a result, offer varying pay ranges.

Currently, the top five specialties for the highest median physician salaries are orthopedic surgery, plastic surgery, cardiology, urology and otolaryngology. On average, the highest-paid medical professionals are surgical specialists.

The lowest-paid specialists are pediatricians and family medicine physicians.

Pay is increasing for some specialties. Obstetrics and gynecology, radiology, otolaryngology, gastroenterology and dermatology all saw salary increases of more than 10% in 2022. Pediatrics also saw a 10% increase in pay in 2022. Primary care physicians received about 3% more money in 2022, which is the highest historical average recorded to date.

The largest decreases in pay were in cardiology and dermatology.

Doctors in both specialties and primary care reported earning bonuses. Relative Value Unit or RVU-based bonuses comprised the majority of bonuses (70%). Bonuses for quality of care increased by 35% over the past year. Other bonuses came from net collections, patient encounters and gross billings.

Significant pay gap exists between genders

The report highlighted a significant gender pay gap between male and female physicians. Female physicians earned an average of 23.6% less than their male counterparts in the same specialty. The gap varied based on region and specialty but remained substantial.

The Physicians Thrive study listed no specialties without a gap in pay based on gender. However, specialties with the smallest gender wage gap include pediatric rheumatology, pediatric infectious disease, pediatric hematology/oncology, hematology and pediatric cardiology.

The largest gender gap in pay exists in the following specialties: oral/maxillofacial surgery, allergy and immunology, otolaryngology, pediatric nephrology and thoracic surgery.

Work-life balance matters for physician satisfaction

Medical professionals work demanding hours, but according to the Physicians Thrive report, hours have returned to pre-pandemic levels. On average, doctors work 50 hours a week, but more than 30% work more than 60 hours a week. Just over 20% of physicians work 40 to 49 hours per week.

Physicians surveyed say that working long hours is one of the least-liked aspects of their job. Some physicians feel that their “overbearing workload leaves little time for much else.” Others noted that workaholic attitudes stand in the way of happiness and fulfillment.

Creating a good work-life balance with time away from the job makes doctors more happy at work. Almost half of physicians (43%) say they take three to four weeks off work for vacation every year.

Rewarding aspects of serving as a physician

Beyond compensation, non-tangible benefits are important for physician satisfaction as well. Doctors report that the following aspects of the job are rewarding:

  • Gratitude and relationships with patients
  • Finding answers and making diagnoses for better patient care
  • Helping others
  • Seeing the impact that physicians have on patients and families, especially the underserved or those with unmet needs
  • Earning a good salary at a job they like
  • Belonging to a professional community
  • Empowerment and support from leadership and colleagues

Increase your physician satisfaction

Many aspects of health care contribute to the heavy burden that medical professionals have to bear. Insurance problems, paperwork, new technologies, long work hours and growing regulations are leading to physician burnout.

Tinkbird Healthcare Staffing works with physicians to find high-quality matches across the nation. We have a strong track record of finding positions that fit our providers’ needs and career goals. We aim to offer excellent customer service that is transparent and easy for both providers and healthcare facilities.

To discover locum tenens and permanent positions for doctors, visit our Job Search.


This article includes information from the following sources:
– Physicians Thrive’s 2023 Physicians Compensation Report
– The American Medical Association’s 2022 National Burnout Benchmarking Report
– 2023 Medscape Plastic Surgeon Lifestyle, Happiness and Burnout Report

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