Intensivist Salary: What Critical Care Doctors Earn & More

Often called a critical care doctor, an intensivist specializes in treating critically ill patients, a practice that requires years of advanced training. These specialists must secure competitive fellowships but will find their skills in high demand. Indeed, highly trained specialist doctors will want to ensure they receive an appropriate intensivist salary to compensate them for years of training and experience in this essential skill.

These practitioners must finish medical school before they complete a residency and board certification in various specialties, like internal medicine, pediatrics, or surgery. Afterward, the doctors complete a fellowship and board certification for critical care medicine. Thus, critical care doctors don’t focus on one particular specialty, like surgeons or heart doctors. Instead, intensivists work with a more holistic perspective. They typically lead caregiving teams of various specialists who treat seriously ill patients.


Average Intensivist Salary

Several companies offer critical care doctor salary surveys. However, the survey results vary slightly because of the different population groups and methodologies used. Intensivists may find it helpful to compare salary estimates from various sources. For instance:

  • According to, critical care doctor compensation ranges from a low of $309,642 to a high of $492,856.
  • The total compensation included an average salary of $376,001 and an average incentive bonus of $61,663, making the bonus a significant portion of a comprehensive compensation package.
  • MGMA posted an average salary of $447,930, and Medscape’s survey found an average salary of $369,000.
  • AAMC focused on critical care physicians in academic settings, with an average of $348,000.

Which Factors May Impact a Critical Care Doctor’s Salary?

Qualified critical doctors should expect generous salary offers. At the same time, salaries offered to an individual physician can vary substantially because of geographic area, experience, specialties, and hospital or facility. For instance, found the highest average salaries for intensivists in San Francisco, with New York City, Washington DC, and Boston not far behind.

In addition, women in this profession may face obstacles earning higher salaries, as demonstrated by a substantial gender gap today. According to a report on the National Library of Medicine, women are underrepresented in this medical specialty, especially in leadership positions and academic publishing. Some barriers to entry for women critical care doctors may include gender bias, the time needed to fulfill certification requirements, and female students’ perception of unflexible schedules in the field.

A recent AAMC study uncovered average pay discrepancies between male and female doctors in all fields of medicine. At the same time, some medical branches have tended to attract a more significant percentage of women. For instance, women make up over half of all obstetricians and 65% of pediatricians, according to However, only about one-quarter of critical care doctors are women. Thus, underrepresentation may lead to more significant pay disparities between men and women in this field, partially because of years of experience.

Critical Care Subspecialty Salaries

A critical doctor must complete five years of training after medical school, including a residency and fellowship. This commitment allows doctors to focus on a subspecialty, like pediatrics, pulmonary care, or surgery. Typically, expect the salary for a specialty that typically pays better to also pay better for a critical care specialist.

For instance, expect a larger intensivist salary for a surgical specialty to average higher than for pediatrics. At the same time, Medscape found that the employment setting and geographic area also significantly impact compensation. For example, the report uncovered the highest critical care doctor salary in multispecialty practices. Expect lower average pay in hospitals or academies.

Read this: Experts Weigh in on the Future of Healthcare in the Next 30 Years


Typical Student Debt Burden for Critical Care Doctors

Many news stories report the burden of typical student loan debts for college. Intensivists may only have a chance to reduce their debt once they finish the requirements. After four years of college, these specialists must also spend several years completing medical school, a residency, and a fellowship. Typical medical students accumulate over $200,000 in medical school alone.

Most specialists accept this debt as an investment in their future careers. After all, a trained and certified critical care doctor can expect generous compensation. Good prospects and a high salary can also open many opportunities to manage debt successfully. For instance, prudent doctors can take several steps to manage their debt and reduce the burden. Examples include:

  • Refinance debt to reduce interest and fees: Large debts can take years to pay off, so interest and fees can add thousands to the initial amount borrowed. For instance, paying about $1,400 a month for a 20-year, $200,000 loan would result in almost $145,000 in interest payments at six percent. At four percent, interest drops to less than $100,000. Get started with the excellent medical school loan refinancing options we have put together for physicians.
  • Explore loan forgiveness programs: Many doctors can find loan forgiveness programs, especially those with in-demand critical care specialties. The government and some private organizations typically sponsor these programs to incentivize physicians to work in underserved areas or facilities. The American Association of Family Practice Doctors offers some good resources that can apply to various specialties too.

Related: The Full Breakdown to Medical School Loans

How to Increase an Intensivist’s Salary

Naturally, intensivists will seek ways to compensate themselves for the investment they make in their careers. While typical pay for critical care doctors averages higher than for many other specialties, this profession demands a lengthy training period and often, long work hours. Thus, many critical care doctors will seek to maximize their compensation.

Some excellent examples of maximizing a critical care doctor’s salary include:

  • Establish a practice: Doctors who own practices or share a partnership typically earn more than those who work as employees. Consider establishing a practice or joining together with other practitioners in a partnership.
  • Seek a higher-paying subspecialty: Intensivists who focus on higher-paying specialties may find their talents compensated better because of demand.
  • Hire nurse practitioners or physician assistants to spread the workload: Hiring medical assistants gives critical care doctors a chance to spread some of the work around while focusing on the more complex issues.
  • Negotiate bonus pay: Besides an intensivist salary, bonuses make up a large portion of compensation for critical care doctors who work as employees.

Related reading: How to Negotiate a Physician Relocation Bonus

Making the Most of a Critical Care Doctor’s Salary

It might look like critical care doctors have a chance to earn high salaries. At the same time, doctors who commit to completing training and certification for an intensivist career will undoubtedly want to maximize their earnings. Consider these suggestions to begin building wealth and security from compensation.

Save for Retirement

Younger practitioners might feel like they can always plan for retirement later. Even so, people who work hard for their money should consider giving their money time to grow, so savings can begin earning additional income with interest and dividends.

Specialist doctors spend years in medical school, residencies, and fellowships learning medicine, but classes don’t always include guidance about financial management. To that end, we be sure to check out The Complete Guide to Physician Retirement Planning.

For example, tax-advantaged retirement accounts can reduce tax burdens now and earn tax-deferred or tax-free growth later. Employers may offer a 401(k) or 403(b) plan, and some incentivize savings with matching contributions. Self-employed doctors should look into traditional or Roth IRAs and tax-free bonds or ETFs.

Compare Malpractice Insurance Options

Busy medical professionals may not care to spend much time considering malpractice insurance options. At the same time, the American Medical Association reported that one out of two doctors suffered from a lawsuit by age 55. Thus, critical care doctors can’t afford to leave this matter to chance. This professional liability insurance can help pay for judgments or settlements and fund a pricey legal defense.

To get started comparing malpractice insurance alternatives, doctors should familiarize themselves with the two kinds of malpractice insurance policies:

  • Occurrence: This less-common type of malpractice insurance typically costs more than claims-made policies but is simpler to understand. It covers liability claims for events that occurred during an active policy term, regardless of when the claimant reported their complaint.
  • Claims-made: This type of malpractice policy only covers events if the occurrence and the complaint occurred when the policy was active. In this case, the practitioner would need to purchase a tail to ensure coverage for any claims made after they terminated the policy, even if the act occurred when the policy was active.

The choice of coverage presents a challenge, even for highly-educated doctors. Doctors must maintain the right coverage, either alone or through an employment contract, to ensure financial security, compliance with laws and contract terms, and peace of mind. For more information on malpractice insurance options, we can provide a personal consultation.

The Importance of Negotiating a Critical Care Doctor Compensation Package

Doctors face the most critical part of their job searches near the end when it’s time to negotiate contracts. An ability to resolve issues at the negotiation table can ensure job satisfaction and reduce the likelihood of dissatisfaction leading to another job search in a few years. Proper preparation for critical contract negotiations should start with listing which aspects matter the most, like compensation, work-life balance, advancement potential, or anticipated time spent with patients and other activities.

These specific tactics at negotiation can help practitioners gather the information needed to make an informed choice:

  • Prepare questions: Find out how the employer structures compensation, expected work schedules and on-call rotations, benefits, and if a non-compete clause exists.
  • Ensure competitive compensation: Use compensation surveys to determine if the offer compares well to trends for the setting.
  • Choose negotiation points: Decide in advance which issues are deal breakers for accepting a job offer. Both prospective employees and employers can exercise some flexibility, but sometimes, they can’t reach an agreement.

Intensivists work hard to qualify for this specialized profession but may need to gain experience probing the fine print on employment contracts. After the interview and negotiations, critical care doctors should still pursue the extra step of getting their contracts reviewed by a professional team.

Find out more about professional contract review services for physicians. Services include compensation comparisons, benefits reviews, and a legal review by an attorney.

Why Intensivists Need Disability Insurance

An intensivist salary may appear generous. At the same time, these specialists must invest in years of training, typically at the cost of accumulating considerable debt. Investing in a specialized medical degree remains profitable so long as doctors can earn an income long enough to settle their debts, save money, and enjoy a comfortable lifestyle.

According to the CDC, 25 percent of Americans have a disability that impacts their life. Indeed, the chances of long-term disabilities increase with age, but younger people still have a 33% chance of a disability lasting for at least three months before they retire. Thus, anybody with a lot to lose, including critical care doctors, should plan to provide for themselves and their families in case something unexpected disrupts work.

Disability insurance can provide income during a disabling illness or accident. Even if the reasons to enroll in disability insurance appear apparent, many physicians don’t know if they should enroll in group disability from their employer or shop for an individual plan. Key differences between these two options include the following:

  • Group plans may cost less, and some employers subsidize part of the cost.
  • Group disability policies usually terminate after employment ends; however, insured people can keep their individual policies until retirement.
  • Insurers may offer better benefits and customization options for individual policies.

Thus, practitioners should consider an individual policy if they anticipate changing employers or beginning their own practice eventually. Insurers offer these as stand-alone policies or as a supplement to job-related benefits.

We will answer questions about this essential protection and provide free, competitive disability insurance quotes to compare. This coverage can provide peace of mind and most importantly, income in case an illness or injury interferes with work.

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