Physicians and Surgeons

Summary

physicians and surgeons image
Physicians examine patients; obtain medical histories; and order, perform, and interpret diagnostic tests.
Quick Facts: Physicians and Surgeons
2016 Median Pay This wage is equal to or greater than $208,000 per year or $100.00 per hour.
Typical Entry-Level Education Doctoral or professional degree
Work Experience in a Related Occupation None
On-the-job Training Internship/residency
Number of Jobs, 2016 713,800
Job Outlook, 2016-26 15% (Much faster than average)
Employment Change, 2016-26 106,500

What Physicians and Surgeons Do

Physicians and surgeons diagnose and treat injuries or illnesses. Physicians examine patients; take medical histories; prescribe medications; and order, perform, and interpret diagnostic tests. They counsel patients on diet, hygiene, and preventive healthcare. Surgeons operate on patients to treat injuries, such as broken bones; diseases, such as cancerous tumors; and deformities, such as cleft palates.

Work Environment

About half of physicians and surgeons worked in physicians’ offices in 2016. Others worked in hospitals, in academia, or for the government.

How to Become a Physician or Surgeon

Physicians and surgeons have demanding education and training requirements. Physicians typically need a bachelor’s degree, a degree from a medical school, which takes 4 years to complete, and, depending on their specialty, 3 to 7 years in internship and residency programs.

Pay

Wages for physicians and surgeons are among the highest of all occupations. The Pay tab has compensation data from the Medical Group Management Association’s Physician Compensation and Production Survey.

Job Outlook

Overall employment of physicians and surgeons is projected to grow 15 percent from 2016 to 2026, much faster than the average for all occupations. Job growth is projected due to increased demand for healthcare services by the growing and aging population.

State & Area Data

Explore resources for employment and wages by state and area for physicians and surgeons.

Similar Occupations

Compare the job duties, education, job growth, and pay of physicians and surgeons with similar occupations.

More Information, Including Links to O*NET

Learn more about physicians and surgeons by visiting additional resources, including O*NET, a source on key characteristics of workers and occupations.

What Physicians and Surgeons Do About this section

Physicians and surgeons
Physicians often work closely with other healthcare staff including physician assistants, registered nurses, and medical records and health information technicians.

Physicians and surgeons diagnose and treat injuries or illnesses. Physicians examine patients; take medical histories; prescribe medications; and order, perform, and interpret diagnostic tests. They often counsel patients on diet, hygiene, and preventive healthcare. Surgeons operate on patients to treat injuries, such as broken bones; diseases, such as cancerous tumors; and deformities, such as cleft palates.

There are two types of physicians, with similar degrees: M.D. (Medical Doctor) and D.O. (Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine). Both use the same methods of treatment, including drugs and surgery, but D.O.s place additional emphasis on the body's musculoskeletal system, preventive medicine, and holistic (whole-person) patient care. D.O.s are most likely to be primary care physicians, although they can be found in all specialties.

Duties

Physicians and surgeons typically do the following:

  • Take a patient’s medical history
  • Update charts and patient information to show current findings and treatments
  • Order tests for nurses or other healthcare staff to perform
  • Review test results to identify any abnormal findings
  • Recommend and design a plan of treatment
  • Address concerns or answer questions that patients have about their health and well-being
  • Help patients take care of their health by discussing topics such as proper nutrition and hygiene

Physicians and surgeons work in one or more specialties. The following are examples of types of physicians and surgeons:

Anesthesiologists focus on the care of surgical patients and pain relief. They administer drugs (anesthetics) that reduce or eliminate the sensation of pain during an operation or another medical procedure. During surgery, they are responsible for adjusting the amount of anesthetic as needed, and monitoring the patient's heart rate, body temperature, blood pressure, and breathing. They also work outside of the operating room, providing pain relief for patients in the intensive care unit, for women in labor and delivery of babies, and for patients who suffer from chronic pain. Anesthesiologists work with other physicians and surgeons to decide on treatments and procedures before, during, and after surgery.

Family and general physicians assess and treat a range of conditions that occur in everyday life. These conditions include sinus and respiratory infections to broken bones. Family and general physicians typically have regular, long-term patients.

General internists diagnose and provide nonsurgical treatment for a range of problems that affect internal organ systems such as the stomach, kidneys, liver, and digestive tract. Internists use a variety of diagnostic techniques to treat patients through medication or hospitalization. They work mostly with adult patients.

General pediatricians provide care for infants, children, teenagers, and young adults. They specialize in diagnosing and treating problems specific to younger people. Most pediatricians treat common illnesses, minor injuries, and infectious diseases, and administer vaccinations. Some pediatricians specialize in pediatric surgery or serious medical conditions that commonly affect younger patients, such as autoimmune disorders or chronic ailments.

Obstetricians and gynecologists (OB/GYNs) provide care related to pregnancy, childbirth, and the female reproductive system. They treat and counsel women throughout their pregnancy and deliver babies. They also diagnose and treat health issues specific to women, such as breast cancer, cervical cancer, hormonal disorders, and symptoms related to menopause.

Psychiatrists are primary mental health physicians. They diagnose and treat mental illnesses through a combination of personal counseling (psychotherapy), psychoanalysis, hospitalization, and medication. Psychotherapy involves regular discussions with patients about their problems. The psychiatrist helps them find solutions through changes in their behavioral patterns, explorations of their past experiences, or group and family therapy sessions. Psychoanalysis involves long-term psychotherapy and counseling for patients. Psychiatrists may prescribe medications to correct chemical imbalances that cause some mental illnesses.

Surgeons treat injuries, diseases, and deformities through operations. Using a variety of instruments, a surgeon corrects physical deformities, repairs bone and tissue after injuries, or performs preventive or elective surgeries on patients. Although a large number perform general surgery, many surgeons choose to specialize in a specific area. Specialties include orthopedic surgery (the treatment of the musculoskeletal system), neurological surgery (treatment of the brain and nervous system), cardiovascular surgery, and plastic or reconstructive surgery. Like other physicians, surgeons examine patients, perform and interpret diagnostic tests, and counsel patients on preventive healthcare. Some specialist physicians also perform surgery.

Physicians and surgeons may work in a number of other medical and surgical specialties and subspecialties. The following specialists are some of the most common examples:

  • Allergists (specialists in diagnosing and treating hay fever or other allergies)
  • Cardiologists (heart specialists)
  • Dermatologists (skin specialists)
  • Gastroenterologists (digestive system specialists)
  • Ophthalmologists (eye specialists)
  • Pathologists (specialists who study body tissue to see if it is normal or abnormal)
  • Radiologists (specialists who review and interpret x rays and other images and deliver radiation treatments for cancer and other illnesses)

Physicians in healthcare establishments work daily with other healthcare staff, such as registered nurses, other physicians, medical assistants, and medical records and health information technicians.

Some physicians may choose to work in fields that do not involve patient care, such as medical research or public policy. 

Work Environment About this section

Physicians and surgeons
Surgeons and anesthesiologists usually work in well-lighted, sterile environments, and often stand for long periods.

Physicians and surgeons held about 713,800 jobs in 2016. Employment in the detailed occupations that make up physicians and surgeons was distributed as follows:

Physicians and surgeons, all other 372,400
Family and general practitioners 134,800
Internists, general 49,800
Surgeons 45,000
Anesthesiologists 33,000
Pediatricians, general 29,600
Psychiatrists 27,500
Obstetricians and gynecologists 21,700

About half of physicians and surgeons worked in physicians’ offices in 2016. Others worked in hospitals, in academia, or for the government.

Increasingly, physicians are working in group practices, healthcare organizations, or hospitals, where they share a large number of patients with other doctors. The group setting allows them more time off and lets them coordinate care for their patients, but it gives them less independence than solo practitioners have.

Surgeons and anesthesiologists usually work in sterile environments while performing surgery and may stand for long periods.

Work Schedules

Most physicians and surgeons work full time. Many physicians and surgeons work long, irregular, and overnight hours. Physicians and surgeons may travel between their offices and hospitals to care for their patients. While on call, a physician may need to address a patient’s concerns over the phone or make an emergency visit to a hospital or nursing home.

How to Become a Physician or Surgeon About this section

Physicians and surgeons
Physicians and surgeons may work in a medical specialty, such as cardiology, dermatology, pathology, or radiology.

Physicians and surgeons have demanding education and training requirements. Physicians typically need a bachelor’s degree, a degree from a medical school, which takes 4 years to complete, and, depending on their specialty, 3 to 7 years in internship and residency programs.

Education

Most applicants to medical school have at least a bachelor's degree, and many have advanced degrees. Although no specific major is required, students usually complete undergraduate work in biology, chemistry, physics, math, and English. Students also may take courses in the humanities and social sciences. In addition, some students volunteer at local hospitals or clinics to gain experience in a healthcare setting.

Medical schools are highly competitive. Most applicants must submit transcripts, scores from the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT), and letters of recommendation. Schools also consider an applicant’s personality, leadership qualities, and participation in extracurricular activities. Most schools require applicants to interview with members of the admissions committee.

A few medical schools offer combined undergraduate and medical school programs that last 6 to 8 years.

Students spend most of the first 2 years of medical school in laboratories and classrooms, taking courses such as anatomy, biochemistry, pharmacology, psychology, medical ethics, and in the laws governing medicine. They also gain practical skills; learning to take medical histories, examine patients, and diagnose illnesses.

During their last 2 years, medical students work with patients under the supervision of experienced physicians in hospitals and clinics. Through rotations in internal medicine, family practice, obstetrics and gynecology, pediatrics, psychiatry, and surgery, they gain experience in diagnosing and treating illnesses in a variety of areas.

Training

After medical school, almost all graduates enter a residency program in their specialty of interest. A residency usually takes place in a hospital and varies in duration, generally lasting from 3 to 7 years, depending on the specialty.

Licenses, Certifications, and Registrations

All states require physicians and surgeons to be licensed; requirements vary by state. To qualify for a license, candidates must graduate from an accredited medical school and complete residency training in their specialty.

All physicians and surgeons also must pass a standardized national licensure exam. M.D.s take the U.S. Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE). D.O.s take the Comprehensive Osteopathic Medical Licensing Examination (COMLEX-USA). For specific state information about licensing, contact your state’s medical board.

Certification is not required for physicians and surgeons; however, it may increase their employment opportunities. M.D.s and D.O.s seeking board certification in a specialty may spend up to 7 years in residency training; the length of time varies with the specialty. To become board certified, candidates must complete a residency program and pass a specialty certification exam from a certifying board including the American Board of Medical Specialties (ABMS), the American Osteopathic Association (AOA), or the American Board of Physician Specialties (ABPS).

Important Qualities

Communication skills. Physicians and surgeons need to be excellent communicators. They must communicate effectively with their patients and other healthcare support staff.

Compassion. Patients who are sick or injured may be in extreme pain or distress. Physicians and surgeons must treat patients and their families with compassion and understanding.

Detail oriented. Patients must receive appropriate treatment and medications. Physicians and surgeons must accurately monitor and record various pieces of information related to patient care.

Dexterity. Physicians and surgeons may work with very precise and sometimes sharp tools, and mistakes can have serious consequences.

Leadership skills. Physicians who work in their own practice must manage a staff of other professionals.

Organizational skills. Good recordkeeping and other organizational skills are critical in both medical and business settings.

Patience. Physicians and surgeons may work for long periods with patients who need special attention. Persons who fear medical treatment may require more patience.

Physical stamina. Physicians and surgeons should be comfortable lifting or turning disabled patients, or performing other physical tasks. Surgeons may spend a great deal of time bending over patients during surgery.

Problem-solving skills. Physicians and surgeons need to evaluate patients’ symptoms and administer the appropriate treatments. They need to do this quickly if a patient’s life is threatened.

Pay About this section

Physicians and Surgeons

Median annual wages, May 2016

Physicians and surgeons

This wage is equal to or greater than $208,000 per year.

Health diagnosing and treating practitioners

$77,980

Total, all occupations

$37,040

 

Wages for physicians and surgeons are among the highest of all occupations. According to the Medical Group Management Association’s Physician Compensation and Production Survey, median total compensation for physicians varies with their type of practice. In 2015, physicians practicing primary care received total median annual compensation of $251,578 and physicians practicing in medical specialties received total median annual compensation of $425,509.

Median annual compensation for selected specialties in 2015, as reported by the Medical Group Management Association, was as follows:

Anesthesiology $453,687
General surgery 409,665
Obstetrics/gynecology 330,696
Psychiatry 255,543
Internal Medicine 247,319
Pediatrics 231,637
Family Medicine (without Obstetrics) 230,456
Source: MGMA DataDive™ Provider Compensation 2016.  Used with permission from MGMA, 104 Inverness Terrace East, Englewood, Colorado 80112.  877.275.6462.  www.mgma.com.  Copyright 2015.

Earnings vary with the physician’s or surgeon’s number of years in practice, geographic region of practice, hours worked, skill, personality, and professional reputation.

Many physicians and surgeons work long, irregular, and overnight hours. Physicians and surgeons may travel between their offices and hospitals to care for their patients. While on call, a physician may need to address a patient’s concerns over the phone or make an emergency visit to a hospital or nursing home.

Job Outlook About this section

Physicians and Surgeons

Percent change in employment, projected 2016-26

Health diagnosing and treating practitioners

16%

Physicians and surgeons

15%

Total, all occupations

7%

 

Overall employment of physicians and surgeons is projected to grow 15 percent from 2016 to 2026, much faster than the average for all occupations.

The growing and aging population is expected to drive overall growth in the demand for physician services. As the older population grows and rates of chronic illnesses increase, consumers will seek high levels of care that use the latest technologies, diagnostic tests, and therapies.

Demand for physicians and surgeons is expected to increase despite factors that can temper growth. New technologies, such as improved information technologies or remote monitoring, are expected to allow physicians to treat more patients in the same amount of time. If adopted, new technologies can reduce the number of physicians who would be needed to complete the same tasks. In addition, physician assistants and nurse practitioners can do many of the routine duties of physicians and may be used to reduce costs at hospitals and doctor’s offices.

Demand for physicians’ services is sensitive to changes in healthcare reimbursement policies. Consumers may seek fewer physician services if changes to health coverage result in higher out-of-pocket costs for them.

Job Prospects

Job prospects are expected to be very good because almost all graduates of domestic medical schools are matched to residencies (their first jobs as physicians) immediately after graduating. 

Prospects should be especially good for physicians who are willing to practice in rural and low-income areas, because these areas tend to have difficulty attracting physicians. Job prospects also should be good for physicians in specialties dealing with health issues that mainly affect aging baby boomers. For example, physicians specializing in cardiology and radiology will be needed because the risks for heart disease and cancer increase as people age.

Employment projections data for physicians and surgeons, 2016-26
Occupational Title SOC Code Employment, 2016 Projected Employment, 2026 Change, 2016-26 Employment by Industry
Percent Numeric

SOURCE: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Employment Projections program

Physicians and surgeons

29-1060 713,800 820,300 15 106,500 employment projections excel document xlsx

Anesthesiologists

29-1061 33,000 38,900 18 5,900 employment projections excel document xlsx

Family and general practitioners

29-1062 134,800 157,100 16 22,200 employment projections excel document xlsx

Internists, general

29-1063 49,800 58,200 17 8,400 employment projections excel document xlsx

Obstetricians and gynecologists

29-1064 21,700 25,500 18 3,900 employment projections excel document xlsx

Pediatricians, general

29-1065 29,600 34,800 18 5,300 employment projections excel document xlsx

Psychiatrists

29-1066 27,500 31,200 13 3,600 employment projections excel document xlsx

Surgeons

29-1067 45,000 52,600 17 7,600 employment projections excel document xlsx

Physicians and surgeons, all other

29-1069 372,400 422,000 13 49,600 employment projections excel document xlsx

State & Area Data About this section

Occupational Employment Statistics (OES)

The Occupational Employment Statistics (OES) program produces employment and wage estimates annually for over 800 occupations. These estimates are available for the nation as a whole, for individual states, and for metropolitan and nonmetropolitan areas. The link(s) below go to OES data maps for employment and wages by state and area.

Projections Central

Occupational employment projections are developed for all states by Labor Market Information (LMI) or individual state Employment Projections offices. All state projections data are available at www.projectionscentral.com. Information on this site allows projected employment growth for an occupation to be compared among states or to be compared within one state. In addition, states may produce projections for areas; there are links to each state’s websites where these data may be retrieved.

CareerOneStop

CareerOneStop includes hundreds of occupational profiles with data available by state and metro area. There are links in the left-hand side menu to compare occupational employment by state and occupational wages by local area or metro area. There is also a salary info tool to search for wages by zip code.

Similar Occupations About this section

This table shows a list of occupations with job duties that are similar to those of physicians and surgeons.

Occupation Job Duties ENTRY-LEVEL EDUCATION Help 2016 MEDIAN PAY Help
Chiropractors

Chiropractors

Chiropractors treat patients with health problems of the neuromusculoskeletal system, which includes nerves, bones, muscles, ligaments, and tendons. They use spinal adjustments and manipulation, as well as other clinical interventions, to manage patients’ health concerns, such as back and neck pain.

Doctoral or professional degree $67,520
Dentists

Dentists

Dentists diagnose and treat problems with patients’ teeth, gums, and related parts of the mouth. They provide advice and instruction on taking care of the teeth and gums and on diet choices that affect oral health.

Doctoral or professional degree $159,770
nurse anesthetists nurse midwives and nurse practitioners image

Nurse Anesthetists, Nurse Midwives, and Nurse Practitioners

Nurse anesthetists, nurse midwives, and nurse practitioners, also referred to as advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs), coordinate patient care and may provide primary and specialty healthcare. The scope of practice varies from state to state.

Master's degree $107,460
Optometrists

Optometrists

Optometrists examine the eyes and other parts of the visual system. They also diagnose and treat visual problems and manage diseases, injuries, and other disorders of the eyes. They prescribe eyeglasses or contact lenses as needed.

Doctoral or professional degree $106,140
Physician assistants

Physician Assistants

Physician assistants, also known as PAs, practice medicine on teams with physicians, surgeons, and other healthcare workers. They examine, diagnose, and treat patients.

Master's degree $101,480
Podiatrists

Podiatrists

Podiatrists provide medical and surgical care for people with foot, ankle, and lower leg problems. They diagnose illnesses, treat injuries, and perform surgery involving the lower extremities.

Doctoral or professional degree $124,830
Registered nurses

Registered Nurses

Registered nurses (RNs) provide and coordinate patient care, educate patients and the public about various health conditions, and provide advice and emotional support to patients and their family members.

Bachelor's degree $68,450
Veterinarians

Veterinarians

Veterinarians care for the health of animals and work to improve public health. They diagnose, treat, and research medical conditions and diseases of pets, livestock, and other animals.

Doctoral or professional degree $88,770

Contacts for More Information About this section

For more information about physicians and surgeons, visit

American Medical Association

American Osteopathic Association

For more information about various medical specialties, visit

American Academy of Family Physicians

American Board of Medical Specialties

American Board of Physician Specialties

American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists

American College of Surgeons

For a list of medical schools and residency programs, as well as for general information on premedical education, financial aid, and medicine as a career, visit

Association of American Medical Colleges

American Association of Colleges of Osteopathic Medicine

For information about licensing, visit

Federation of State Medical Boards

CareerOneStop

For a career video on anesthesiologists, visit

Anesthesiologists

For a career video on surgeons, visit

Surgeons

O*NET

Allergists and Immunologists

Anesthesiologists

Dermatologists

Family and General Practitioners

Hospitalists

Internists, General

Neurologists

Nuclear Medicine Physicians

Obstetricians and Gynecologists

Ophthalmologists

Pathologists

Pediatricians, General

Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation Physicians

Physicians and Surgeons, All Other

Preventive Medicine Physicians

Psychiatrists

Radiologists

Sports Medicine Physicians

Surgeons

Urologists

Suggested citation:

Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Physicians and Surgeons,
on the Internet at https://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/physicians-and-surgeons.htm (visited December 14, 2017).

Last Modified Date: Tuesday, October 24, 2017

What They Do

The What They Do tab describes the typical duties and responsibilities of workers in the occupation, including what tools and equipment they use and how closely they are supervised. This tab also covers different types of occupational specialties.

Work Environment

The Work Environment tab includes the number of jobs held in the occupation and describes the workplace, the level of physical activity expected, and typical hours worked. It may also discuss the major industries that employed the occupation. This tab may also describe opportunities for part-time work, the amount and type of travel required, any safety equipment that is used, and the risk of injury that workers may face.

How to Become One

The How to Become One tab describes how to prepare for a job in the occupation. This tab can include information on education, training, work experience, licensing and certification, and important qualities that are required or helpful for entering or working in the occupation.

Pay

The Pay tab describes typical earnings and how workers in the occupation are compensated—annual salaries, hourly wages, commissions, tips, or bonuses. Within every occupation, earnings vary by experience, responsibility, performance, tenure, and geographic area. For most profiles, this tab has a table with wages in the major industries employing the occupation. It does not include pay for self-employed workers, agriculture workers, or workers in private households because these data are not collected by the Occupational Employment Statistics (OES) survey, the source of BLS wage data in the OOH.

State & Area Data

The State and Area Data tab provides links to state and area occupational data from the Occupational Employment Statistics (OES) program, state projections data from Projections Central, and occupational information from the Department of Labor's CareerOneStop.

Job Outlook

The Job Outlook tab describes the factors that affect employment growth or decline in the occupation, and in some instances, describes the relationship between the number of job seekers and the number of job openings.

Similar Occupations

The Similar Occupations tab describes occupations that share similar duties, skills, interests, education, or training with the occupation covered in the profile.

Contacts for More Information

The More Information tab provides the Internet addresses of associations, government agencies, unions, and other organizations that can provide additional information on the occupation. This tab also includes links to relevant occupational information from the Occupational Information Network (O*NET).

2016 Median Pay

The wage at which half of the workers in the occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. Median wage data are from the BLS Occupational Employment Statistics survey. In May 2016, the median annual wage for all workers was $37,040.

On-the-job Training

Additional training needed (postemployment) to attain competency in the skills needed in this occupation.

Entry-level Education

Typical level of education that most workers need to enter this occupation.

Work experience in a related occupation

Work experience that is commonly considered necessary by employers, or is a commonly accepted substitute for more formal types of training or education.

Number of Jobs, 2016

The employment, or size, of this occupation in 2016, which is the base year of the 2016-26 employment projections.

Job Outlook, 2016-26

The projected percent change in employment from 2016 to 2026. The average growth rate for all occupations is 7 percent.

Employment Change, 2016-26

The projected numeric change in employment from 2016 to 2026.

Entry-level Education

Typical level of education that most workers need to enter this occupation.

On-the-job Training

Additional training needed (postemployment) to attain competency in the skills needed in this occupation.

Employment Change, projected 2016-26

The projected numeric change in employment from 2016 to 2026.

Growth Rate (Projected)

The percent change of employment for each occupation from 2016 to 2026.

Projected Number of New Jobs

The projected numeric change in employment from 2016 to 2026.

Projected Growth Rate

The projected percent change in employment from 2016 to 2026.

2016 Median Pay

The wage at which half of the workers in the occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. Median wage data are from the BLS Occupational Employment Statistics survey. In May 2016, the median annual wage for all workers was $37,040.