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Physicians and Surgeons

Summary

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Video transcript available at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qdVM5aDfbjU.
Quick Facts: Physicians and Surgeons
2020 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, 2019 752,400
Job Outlook, 2019-29 4% (As fast as average)
Employment Change, 2019-29 27,300

What Physicians and Surgeons Do

Physicians and surgeons diagnose and treat injuries or illnesses and address health maintenance.

Work Environment

Physicians and surgeons work in both clinical and nonclinical settings. Clinical settings include physicians' offices and hospitals; nonclinical settings include government agencies, nonprofit organizations, and insurance companies.

How to Become a Physician or Surgeon

Physicians and surgeons typically need a bachelor’s degree as well as a medical degree, which takes an additional 4 years to complete. Depending on their specialty, they also need 3 to 9 years in internship and residency programs. Subspecialization includes additional training in a fellowship of 1 to 3 years.

Pay

Wages for physicians and surgeons are among the highest of all occupations, with a median wage equal to or greater than $208,000 per year.

Job Outlook

Overall employment of physicians and surgeons is projected to grow 4 percent from 2019 to 2029, about as fast as the average for all occupations.

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 and address health maintenance. 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 work in all specialties.

Duties

Physicians and surgeons typically do the following:

  • Take a patient’s medical history and perform a physical exam
  • Document and update charts and patient information to show findings and treatments
  • Order tests and consultations for other physicians or healthcare staff to perform
  • Review test results to identify abnormal findings
  • Recommend, design, and implement a treatment plan
  • 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 focus on a particular type of practice. Within their area of focus, they also may specialize or subspecialize. The following are examples of types of physicians and surgeons:

Anesthesiologists focus on the care of surgical patients and on pain relief. They administer drugs (anesthetics) that reduce or eliminate the sensation of pain during an operation or another medical procedure. During surgery, they adjust the amount of anesthetic as needed and monitor the patient's heart rate, body temperature, blood pressure, and breathing. They also provide pain relief for patients in intensive care, for women in labor, and for patients suffering from chronic pain.

Cardiologists diagnose and treat diseases or conditions of the heart and blood vessels, such as valve problems, high blood pressure, and heart attacks. Cardiologists may work with adults or specialize in pediatrics (typically newborns through age 21). Although they treat many of the same disorders in either population, cardiologists in pediatric care focus on conditions that patients are born with rather than on those that develop later in life.

Dermatologists provide care for diseases relating to the skin, hair, and nails. They treat patients who may have melanoma or other skin cancers. They may offer both medical and surgical dermatology services.

Emergency medicine physicians treat patients in urgent medical situations. These physicians evaluate, care for, and stabilize patients whose illness or injury requires immediate attention. Unlike many other physicians, who often choose to specialize, most emergency medical physicians are generalists.

Family medicine physicians are generalists who address health maintenance and assess and treat conditions that occur in everyday life. These conditions include sinus and respiratory infections, intestinal ailments, and broken bones. Family medicine physicians typically have regular, long-term patients, who may include all members of the same household.

General internal medicine physicians diagnose and provide nonsurgical treatment for a range of problems that affect internal organs and systems such as the stomach, kidneys, liver, and digestive tract. Internists use a variety of diagnostic techniques to treat patients through medication or hospitalization. Their patients are mostly adults. They may specialize, such as in gastroenterology or endocrinology.

Neurologists diagnose and treat those with disorders of the brain and nervous system, such as Alzheimer’s disease, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), and epilepsy. These physicians may specialize in one or more conditions, or they may work as pediatric neurologists to diagnose and manage the care of children with autism, behavioral disorders, or other neurological conditions.  

Obstetricians and gynecologists (OB/GYNs) provide care and counsel to women regarding pregnancy, childbirth, and the female reproductive system. They also diagnose and treat health issues specific to women, such as cervical cancer, ovarian cysts, and symptoms related to menopause.

Ophthalmologists diagnose and treat conditions of the eye. Treatment may include surgery to correct vision problems or to prevent vision loss from glaucoma and other diseases. Ophthalmologists also may fit eyeglasses, prescribe contact lenses, and provide other vision services.

Orthopedic surgeons diagnose and treat conditions of or injuries to the musculoskeletal system, which includes bones, muscles, ligaments, and tendons. They may specialize in certain areas of the body, such as the foot and ankle, or in a particular type of practice, such as sports medicine.

Pathologists test body tissue, fluids, and organs and review test results to diagnose diseases. These physicians may choose specializations that include clinical pathology, which focuses on laboratory analysis of bodily fluids, and anatomical pathology, which focuses on examinations of tissue and other samples acquired through autopsy or surgery.

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

Pediatric surgeons diagnose, treat, and manage a variety of disorders and diseases in fetuses, infants, children, and adolescents. These surgeons collaborate with physicians involved in a child’s medical care—including neonatologists, pediatricians, and family medicine physicians—to determine the best treatment options for the child.

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 psychiatrists helping their clients change behavioral patterns and explore past experiences. Psychoanalysis involves long-term psychotherapy and counseling. Psychiatrists may prescribe medications to correct chemical imbalances that cause some mental illnesses.

Radiologists review and interpret x rays and other medical images, such as ultrasounds, to diagnose injuries or diseases. They may specialize, such as in diagnostic radiology, which involves reviewing images and recommending treatment or additional testing, or in interventional radiology, which includes diagnosing patients and treating them with minimally invasive techniques.

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 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 a sterile environment and must follow protocol to maintain it during procedures.

Physicians and surgeons held about 752,400 jobs in 2019. Employment in the detailed occupations that make up physicians and surgeons was distributed as follows:

Physicians, all other; and ophthalmologists, except pediatric 429,500
Family medicine physicians 119,300
General internal medicine physicians 49,500
Surgeons, except ophthalmologists 39,600
Anesthesiologists 33,800
Pediatricians, general 32,500
Psychiatrists 27,900
Obstetricians and gynecologists 20,300

Physicians and surgeons work in both clinical and nonclinical settings. Some examples of clinical settings are physicians' offices and hospitals, including academic hospitals associated with residency programs or schools of medicine. Nonclinical settings include government agencies, nonprofit organizations, and insurance companies.

In clinical settings, physicians may work as part of a group practice or healthcare organization. These arrangements allow them to coordinate patient care but give them less independence than solo practitioners have.

Physicians and surgeons may stand for long periods throughout the day. Other working conditions may vary by specialty. For example, surgeons and anesthesiologists usually work in a sterile environment and must follow protocol to maintain it during procedures.

Work Schedules

Most physicians and surgeons work full time. Some work more than 40 hours per week. Many physicians and surgeons work long shifts, which may include irregular and overnight hours or being on call. Physicians and surgeons may travel between their offices and the hospital to care for patients. While on call, a physician may need to address a patient’s concerns over the phone or make an emergency visit to another location, such as a 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 typically need a bachelor’s degree as well as a degree from a medical school, which takes an additional 4 years to complete. Depending on their specialty, they also need 3 to 9 years in internship and residency programs. Subspecialization includes additional training in a fellowship of 1 to 3 years.

Education

In addition to requiring a bachelor’s degree, physicians and surgeons typically need either a Medical Doctor (M.D.) or a Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine (D.O.) degree. No specific undergraduate major is required to enter an M.D. or D.O. program, but applicants to medical school usually have studied subjects such as biology, chemistry, and physics. Students also may take undergraduate courses in the humanities and social sciences and may choose to work or volunteer at a hospital or clinic to gain experience in a healthcare setting.

Medical schools are highly competitive. Applicants usually must submit transcripts, scores from the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT), and letters of recommendation. Medical 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.

Some medical schools offer combined undergraduate and medical school programs that last 6 to 8 years. Schools may also offer combined graduate degrees, such as M.D.-Ph.D., M.D.-MBA, and M.D.-MPH.

Students spend the first phase of medical school in classrooms, small groups, and laboratories, 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 second phase of medical school, students work with patients under the supervision of experienced physicians in hospitals and clinics. They gain experience in diagnosing and treating illnesses through clerkships, or rotations, in a variety of areas, including internal medicine, pediatrics, and surgery.

Training

After medical school, almost all graduates enter a residency program in their specialty of interest. A residency usually takes place in a hospital or clinic and varies in duration, typically lasting from 3 to 9 years, depending on the specialty. Subspecialization, such as infectious diseases or hand surgery, includes additional training in a fellowship of 1 to 3 years.

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.

Licensure requirements include passing standardized national exams. 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.

Board certification in a specialty 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 9 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 medical certifying board. Examples of certifying boards include the American Board of Medical Specialties (ABMS), the American Osteopathic Association (AOA), and the American Board of Physician Specialties (ABPS).

Important Qualities

Communication skills. Physicians and surgeons need to convey information effectively to their patients and to other healthcare workers. They also must be able to dictate or write reports that clearly describe a patient’s medical condition or procedure outcome.

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

Detail oriented. To ensure that patients receive appropriate treatment, including medication, physicians and surgeons must be precise in monitoring them and recording information related to their care.

Dexterity. Physicians and surgeons must be agile and sure handed, especially when working with extremely sharp medical instruments.

Leadership skills. Physicians and surgeons must coordinate with a team of other healthcare workers to manage patient care or direct medical procedures.    

Organizational skills. Good recordkeeping and other administrative skills are critical for physicians and surgeons in both medical and business settings.

Patience. Physicians and surgeons must remain calm and tolerant when working with patients who need special attention, such as those who fear or ignore medical treatment.

Physical stamina. Physicians and surgeons may spend many hours on their feet, including walking between patient visits or procedures. Surgeons may spend a great deal of time bending over patients during surgery.

Problem-solving skills. Physicians and surgeons need to evaluate patients’ symptoms to determine appropriate treatment. In some situations, such as emergencies, they may need to analyze and resolve crises quickly.

Pay About this section

Physicians and Surgeons

Median annual wages, May 2020

Physicians and surgeons

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

Healthcare diagnosing or treating practitioners

$84,430

Total, all occupations

$41,950

 

Wages for physicians and surgeons are among the highest of all occupations, with a median wage equal to or greater than $208,000 per year. Median wages showing the differences in pay between types of physicians and surgeons are not available, but mean (average) annual wages for physicians and surgeons in May 2020 were as follows:

Anesthesiologists $271,440
Surgeons 251,650
Obstetricians and gynecologists 239,120
Physicians and surgeons, all other 218,850
Psychiatrists 217,100
Family and general practitioners 214,370
Internists, general 210,960
Pediatricians, general 184,570

Most physicians and surgeons work full time. Some work more than 40 hours per week. Many physicians and surgeons work long shifts, which may include irregular and overnight hours or being on call. Physicians and surgeons may travel between their offices and the hospital to care for patients. While on call, a physician may need to address a patient’s concerns over the phone or make an emergency visit to another location, such as a nursing home.

Job Outlook About this section

Physicians and Surgeons

Percent change in employment, projected 2019-29

Healthcare diagnosing or treating practitioners

10%

Total, all occupations

4%

Physicians and surgeons

4%

 

Overall employment of physicians and surgeons is projected to grow 4 percent from 2019 to 2029, about as fast as 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 most types of physicians and surgeons is expected to increase despite factors that can temper growth. New technologies, such as for remote monitoring, are expected to allow physicians to treat more patients in the same amount of time. If adopted, these technologies may reduce the number of physicians 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

About 23,300 openings for physicians and surgeons are projected each year, on average, over the decade.

Many of those openings are expected to result from the need to replace workers who transfer to different occupations or exit the labor force, such as to retire.

Employment projections data for physicians and surgeons, 2019-29
Occupational Title SOC Code Employment, 2019 Projected Employment, 2029 Change, 2019-29 Employment by Industry
Percent Numeric

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

Physicians and surgeons

752,400 779,700 4 27,300

Anesthesiologists

29-1211 33,800 34,000 0 200 Get data

Family medicine physicians

29-1215 119,300 126,600 6 7,300 Get data

General internal medicine physicians

29-1216 49,500 49,200 -1 -300 Get data

Obstetricians and gynecologists

29-1218 20,300 20,100 -1 -300 Get data

Pediatricians, general

29-1221 32,500 32,000 -2 -500 Get data

Psychiatrists

29-1223 27,900 31,300 12 3,300 Get data

Physicians, all other; and ophthalmologists, except pediatric

29-1228 429,500 447,900 4 18,500 Get data

Surgeons, except ophthalmologists

29-1248 39,600 38,800 -2 -900 Get data

State & Area Data About this section

Occupational Employment and Wage Statistics (OEWS)

The Occupational Employment and Wage Statistics (OEWS) 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 OEWS 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 on Entry-Level Education 2020 MEDIAN PAY Help on Median Pay
Chiropractors

Chiropractors

Chiropractors treat patients with health problems of the neuromusculoskeletal system, which includes nerves, bones, muscles, ligaments, and tendons.

Doctoral or professional degree $70,720
Dentists

Dentists

Dentists diagnose and treat problems with patients’ teeth, gums, and related parts of the mouth.

Doctoral or professional degree $164,010
nurse anesthetists nurse midwives and nurse practitioners image

Nurse Anesthetists, Nurse Midwives, and Nurse Practitioners

Nurse anesthetists, nurse midwives, and nurse practitioners coordinate patient care and may provide primary and specialty healthcare.

Master's degree $117,670
Optometrists

Optometrists

Optometrists diagnose and treat visual problems and manage diseases, injuries, and other disorders of the eyes.

Doctoral or professional degree $118,050
Physician assistants

Physician Assistants

Physician assistants practice medicine on teams with physicians, surgeons, and other healthcare workers.

Master's degree $115,390
Podiatrists

Podiatrists

Podiatrists provide medical and surgical care for people with foot, ankle, and lower leg problems.

Doctoral or professional degree $134,300
Registered nurses

Registered Nurses

Registered nurses (RNs) provide and coordinate patient care and educate patients and the public about various health conditions.

Bachelor's degree $75,330
Veterinarians

Veterinarians

Veterinarians care for the health of animals and work to protect public health.

Doctoral or professional degree $99,250

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 College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists

American College of Physicians

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

National Board of Medical Examiners

National Board of Osteopathic Medical Examiners

United States Medical Licensing Examination

CareerOneStop

For a career video on allergists and immunologists, visit

Allergists and Immunologists

For a career video on anesthesiologists, visit

Anesthesiologists

For a career on family medicine physicians, visit

Family Medicine Physicians

For a career video on general internal medicine physicians, visit

General Internal Medicine Physicians

For a career video on obstetricians and gynecologists, visit

Obstetricians and Gynecologists

For a career video on orthopedic surgeons, visit

Orthopedic Surgeons, except Pediatric

For a career video on pediatricians, visit

Pediatricians, General

O*NET

Allergists and Immunologists

Anesthesiologists

Cardiologists

Dermatologists

Emergency Medicine Physicians

Family Medicine Physicians

General Internal Medicine Physicians

Hospitalists

Neurologists

Obstetricians and Gynecologists

Ophthalmologists, Except Pediatric

Orthopedic Surgeons, Except Pediatric

Pediatric Surgeons

Pediatricians, General

Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation Physicians

Physicians, All Other

Physicians, Pathologists

Preventive Medicine Physicians

Psychiatrists

Radiologists

Sports Medicine Physicians

Surgeons, All Other

Urologists

Suggested citation:

Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Physicians and Surgeons,
at https://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/physicians-and-surgeons.htm (visited April 29, 2021).

Last Modified Date: Friday, April 9, 2021

What They Do

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Work Environment

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Pay

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State & Area Data

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

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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.

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2020 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 and Wage Statistics survey. In May 2020, the median annual wage for all workers was $41,950.

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, 2019

The employment, or size, of this occupation in 2019, which is the base year of the 2019-29 employment projections.

Job Outlook, 2019-29

The projected percent change in employment from 2019 to 2029. The average growth rate for all occupations is 4 percent.

Employment Change, 2019-29

The projected numeric change in employment from 2019 to 2029.

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 2019-29

The projected numeric change in employment from 2019 to 2029.

Growth Rate (Projected)

The percent change of employment for each occupation from 2019 to 2029.

Projected Number of New Jobs

The projected numeric change in employment from 2019 to 2029.

Projected Growth Rate

The projected percent change in employment from 2019 to 2029.

2020 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 and Wage Statistics survey. In May 2020, the median annual wage for all workers was $41,950.