Residents' salaries influence choice of specialties. Who makes the most and the least?

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Only 8% of residents said potential earnings were no influence at all in their choice of a specialty. (Getty/utah778)

Their future salary potential influences what specialty 90% of all U.S. medical residents choose—a fact that isn’t encouraging for family medicine.

Residents in family medicine earn the lowest salary at an average of $57,400—a trend that continues post-residency, according to the latest Medscape report on resident salaries and debt.

While there’s not such a wide discrepancy in residents’ salaries based on specialty, that’s not the case after residency. After completing their residency, family physicians remain among the lowest-paid doctors, with an average salary of $231,000 compared with the highest-paid doctors, orthopedists, who earn an average of $428,000, according to Medscape’s previous report on physician compensation.

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Residents earn an average salary of $61,200 in 2019, which continued to increase, climbing 3% over the past two years, according to data from more than 2,200 residents in more than 30 specialties.

Here are the five top-paying specialties for residents:

1. Medical geneticists, $67,500

2. Allergy and immunology, $66,500

3. HIV/infectious diseases, $66,500

4. Surgery, specialized, $65,700

5. Plastic surgery/aesthetic medicine, $65,600

Here are the five lowest-paying specialties for residents:

1. Family medicine, $57,400

2. Emergency medicine, $57,800

3. Internal medicine, $58,600

4. Ophthalmology, $59,000

5. Public health and preventive medicine, $60,000

RELATED: Physician shortage—The numbers keep climbing, now estimated at 122,000 by 2032

Those low salaries for family and internal medicine physicians may exacerbate a looming primary care shortage. Earlier this year, the Association of American Medical Colleges estimated the country will see a shortage of up to 122,000 physicians by 2032. The study estimates a shortfall of between 21,100 and 55,200 primary care physicians and an even greater shortfall of specialists, projected at between 24,800 and 65,800.

Only 8% of residents said potential earnings were no influence at all in their choice of specialty.

RELATED: The top 5 physician salaries by specialty

Medical school debt is also an issue for physicians. More than half of all residents reported owing more than $200,000, with 24% saying they owe over $300,000.

The report also found that the majority of residents (53%) say they are not fairly compensated. Most residents (86%) said they feel their salary does not reflect the number of hours worked. They also feel their salary is not comparable to that of other medical staff such as physician assistants and nurses (72%) and doesn’t reflect their skill level (69%). Two-thirds of residents said they work more than 51 hours per week.

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