Physicians and surgeons earn some of the highest salaries of any occupation, but they also spend the most time and money preparing for their jobs.
They work with other health care professionals to diagnose injuries or diseases and recommend the best treatment. They prescribe drugs, perform operations and interact with patients family members on expected treatment outcomes.
Medical doctors (M.D.s) work in specialties such as surgery, anesthesiology, internal medicine, pediatrics or psychiatry. Doctors of Osteopathic Medicine (D.O.s), who usually practice in primary care, focus on the body’s muscles and bones.
Salaries of physicians and surgeons are dependent on several factors, including the geographic area where they are located, the type of practice and the physician’s specialty. Other factors affecting salaries are experience, skills, professional reputation and the number of hours worked.
Physicians who own their practices earn more than those who work for a clinic or hospital, but they also must provide pay and benefits for themselves and their employees. Doctors in medical specialties generally have higher incomes than those who practice in primary care.
With an average annual wage of $219,770, surgeons are the highest paid physicians, followed closely by anesthesiologists with an average annual wage of $211,750, according to the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics. The lowest paid physicians are pediatricians with an average annual wage of $161,410 and psychiatrists with an average annual wage of $163,660. The average annual wage for family and general practitioners is $168,550.*
*According to the BLS, http://www.bls.gov/oco/
Training and Education Requirements
Physicians and surgeons have the longest and most rigorous education and training of any profession. Educational requirements are four years of college and four years of medical school followed by three to eight years of further on-the-job training through internships and residency at a hospital.
Most medical school applicants have earned bachelor’s degrees with courses in biology, chemistry, mathematics, physics and other subjects related to their medical training. Admission to medical school is very competitive and requires a strong educational background, good references and high scores on the Medical School Admission Test.
A total of 129 medical schools were accredited in 2008 by the Liaison Committee on Medical Education and 25 schools were accredited by the American Osteopathic Association.
The first two years of medical consist of laboratory and classroom study while students work under direct supervision of physicians during the last two years. Students learn to examine patients, make diagnoses and compile medical backgrounds. They take courses in anatomy, biochemistry, physiology, medical ethics, medical law and other subjects.
In osteopathic training, students must complete a year’s rotating internship before beginning a residency of two to six years.
Job Descriptions and Outlook
The job of physicians and surgeons varies according to their specialties. But all physicians must interact with patients and supervise other medical staff. Many work long hours and must be on-call on nights and weekends. About a third of the nation’s 661,400 physicians provide primary care and 12 percent are self-employed.
Family and general practitioners often work in clinics or small practices and are the first to see patients. After diagnosing a patient’s illness, they may write a prescription for drugs or make a referral to a specialist. Pediatricians operate similarly to family and general practitioners, but specialize in children.
General internists also may provide primary care and they treat problems related to internal organs. Gynecologists and obstetricians focus on issues related to women such as breast cancer or urinary infections.
Psychiatrists provide treatment for mental illness while surgeons perform operations when they are needed for treatment. Surgeons are assisted by anesthesiologists, who administer drugs to put patients to sleep or ease pain and monitor the patients’ vital functions.
Jobs for physicians and surgeons are expected to grow 22 percent by 2018, much faster than most other occupations, due to the aging population and health care industry expansion. There is a continuing shortage of physicians in rural areas.*
*According to the BLS, http://www.bls.gov/oco/
The demand for physicians and surgeons will be affected by health care reform, the cost of health care, increasing use of nurse practitioners and physician assistants and technology that allows doctors to treat more patients efficiently.
To practice medicine anywhere in the country, physicians and surgeons must pass the United States Medical Licensing Examination. Before taking the test, they must graduate from an accredited medical school. States control the licensing of physicians, although doctors usually can move to another state without taking another exam. Foreign medical graduates must take an examination and complete a residency.
After completing residency training, physicians can take another examination administered by the American Board of Medical Specialists to be certified in a variety of specialties such as allergies and urology. The American Osteopathic Association also administers examinations for osteopathic doctors who seek certification in specialized practice.
The American Medical Association (AMA), which promotes medicine and works for improved public health, is the primary professional association for physicians and surgeons. Physicians and surgeons also are members of state and local medical societies that monitor local issues related to medicine and public health.
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