General Surgeon Salary: What to Expect By Region

Surgeons need to be decisive and work well under pressure. When you are in the midst of an operation, there’s no time to stand back and assess the situation.

While other professionals in healthcare can do research and take notes before they treat their patients, surgeons don’t have that luxury. This is why most surgeons make considerably more money than the average doctor.

However, according to Medscape, only 60% of general surgeons feel they are paid a fair wage. The other 40% believe they should be paid more.

At Physicians Thrive, we help physicians with all of their financial planning needs, including student loan refinancing, retirement planning, and yes, earning their fair compensation. Contact us today to see how we can help you.

So how much does the average general surgeon make? Why do some general surgeons earn more than others? Can a surgeon take steps to increase his income potential?

This article will answer those questions and more.


Average General Surgeon Salary

According to Medscape, the average salary for a general surgeon is $373,000 per year.

Salary.com reports a slightly higher median salary of $407,300 per year.

Payscale lists the average base salary for general surgeon jobs as $290,391, which is the lowest reported salary of all sources.

The Economic Research Institute’s compensation data show $380,194 per year as the average salary.

The source that lists the highest annual salary for a general surgeon in their salary report is Doximity. According to their survey, the average salary for a general surgeon is $451,151 per year.


Factors That Affect a Surgeon’s Salary

Surgeon wearing magnifying glasses performing a surgery

As you look over the salary range above, you probably wonder why each source has a different number. Granted, some sources are more reputable than others and do deeper research to come to their findings.

However, there are factors that can greatly affect the expected salary of a general surgeon. Let’s discuss these.

Years of Experience

Before a surgeon begins to practice, they earn a small salary from residency. According to Medscape, the average surgeon’s residency salary is $64,000 per year.

After each year of residency is completed, the annual salary increases slightly, according to Medscape’s report.

An entry-level surgeon fresh out of residency, can expect to earn around $265,000 for the first five years, according to Payscale. That number begins to increase dramatically after that.

This same source shows that a general surgeon’s pay increases by $20,000 within the following five years, and that pattern continues with each 5-10 years of work experience.

Location

The location where a surgeon lives and works also affects how much they can expect to earn.

When considering where to practice, a general surgeon should take into account the cost of living and demand for their skills in the area.

Of course, there are always states that pay higher than the national average.

Top-Paying States

According to ZipRecruiter, here are the top-paying states for the job title of general surgeon:

  1. Massachusetts: $337,339
  2. Hawaii: $333,277
  3. Connecticut: $330,620

Health eCareers performed a salary survey for surgeons, and their data shows that Minnesota was the top-paying state, offering a whopping $500,000.

This survey also showed New Hampshire, Oklahoma, New Jersey, and Washington State all paid more than $435,000 per year.

According to this source, New York was one of the lowest-paying states, and Maryland, Wisconsin, Illinois, and Texas all offered a mid-range salary for general surgeons.

Type of Practice

The type of practice that a general surgeon works in will greatly affect the annual salary they receive.

According to Medscape, a surgeon who pursues a self-employed career path earns slightly more than one employed by a hospital or practice.

This may not be the best option for every surgeon, as self-employment comes with many more responsibilities. Working for a hospital has the biggest demand and easiest placement for surgeons, as well.

This Doximity report does a good job at showing how the different practices pay their surgeons.

Page 9 of this report shows that surgeons make the most money working in a single-specialty group, followed closely by a multiple-specialty group. Next in line was a solo practice.

All three practices paid over $400,000 to their surgeons.

The lowest-paying practices were those run by the government, academic, and urgent care centers.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that surgeons who work in outpatient centers earn the highest income.


General Surgeons and Their Student Loan Debt

According to Medscape’s 2021 Wealth and Debt Report, 25% of general surgeons are still paying off medical school debt.

Understandably, it can be difficult to pay off such a large sum expediently with the years of accumulated student loans. However, having this debt looming over your head can be unnecessary added stress.

Not to mention, the interest that compounds as the years go by can take a large chunk of your earnings.

There are many ways that a physician can lower their medical school debt. Part of the trick is to get the right loan from the get-go.

Even after you are out of medical school, there are ways to tackle your student loan debt. Learn about these options by reading our Full Breakdown of Medical Student Loans.

Subspecialties for General Surgeons

As with any physician specialty, there are a number of general surgeon subspecialties.

Below, we’ll discuss three surgery subspecialties along with their corresponding average salary.

Pediatric Surgery

According to Salary.com, a pediatric surgeon earns $464,762 per year.

The Economic Research Institute backs up those numbers with a similar base salary of $430,715 for pediatric surgeons.

Related: Where Do Pediatric Surgeons Make the Most Money?

Surgical Critical Care/Trauma Surgeon

Critical care/trauma surgery is another subspecialty of general surgery.

Physicians Thrive has already done an in-depth article on the salary for this type of surgeon, which you can read here: How to Earn the Most as a Trauma Surgeon.

As a quick review, Comparably lists their salary estimates for a trauma/critical care surgeon at $400,000.

Vascular Surgery

Vascular surgery is another subspecialty that Physicians Thrive has covered. Read the comprehensive salary article on vascular surgery here: How Much Can You Make as a Vascular Surgeon?

It should be noted that this subspecialty holds a lot of promise for increasing a general surgeon’s income. Doximity lists the average annual salary for vascular surgery as $552,313.

*Note that cardiologists, neurologists, oncologists, and orthopedic surgeons do not fall under the umbrella of general surgery, even if they operate on patients. However, you can learn about the salary expectations for some of those fields in these articles:


Additional Ways to Increase Your Income as a General Surgeon

Happy surgeon wearing mask in hospital hallway

Certain business moves can help a surgeon earn a higher hourly wage.

Here are some examples:

Start Your Own Practice

The most common way for a physician to increase their annual income is to go into private practice. This move is bold and needs some finesse, but if you want to take the plunge, our experts can help you start your own private practice.

Buy Real Estate

If and when you do open your own practice, instead of renting your space, invest in a good piece of real estate that will provide you with your own office space and more.

You can then make passive income by renting out the extra office spaces in this building.

Hire Assistants

Consider hiring physician assistants (PAs) and nurse practitioners (NPs) to care for the less intense tasks so that you can see more patients and focus on the surgical aspects of your business.

Develop a Subspecialty

It is always good to develop a niche or subspecialize and learn new procedures. If you are the only surgeon in the area who knows a certain procedure, you will be the go-to doctor for patients requiring it.

Strive for Bonuses

For surgeons that are employed, always take advantage of bonuses. According to Medscape, general surgeons make an average of $47,000 a year in bonuses.

Of course, you can also increase your available bonuses when you are signing your employment contract. Learn how to ask for signing bonuses here: How to Ask For a Signing Bonus.

Get Certifications

Board-certified surgeons may earn more since this requires ongoing education and shows a commitment to the specialty.

Work Locum Tenens

Physicians in many subspecialties have found that they can earn more money working as locum tenens physicians. Read more about this career option here: The Pros and Cons of Physician Locum Tenens.


How to Negotiate Your General Surgery Employment Contract

The very best way to increase your income is to negotiate a higher salary in your employment contract. No matter how much you think you are worth, you will not see that salary unless you play your cards right.

Many physicians feel intimidated by the thought of negotiating their employment contracts. It just isn’t something they learned how to do in medical school.

However, a well-negotiated employment contract can do more than just increase your income — it can also determine your expected duties, benefits, and any included restricted covenants.

Read all about the negotiation process and how to get the best deal in this guide: Can You Negotiate Physician Contracts?.

Once you feel like you may have come to a happy compromise, it would be wise to have your contract reviewed before you are legally bound to it.

This should be done not only when you enter a new contract but anytime your contract is amended, terminated, or renegotiated. Our contract review team can help.


Disability Insurance to Protect Your Salary

After researching how to earn more money, negotiating your employment contract to reflect your market value, and doing what you can to lower your student loan debt, you don’t want to leave yourself vulnerable.

You need to protect your income with a comprehensive disability insurance policy.

No two disability policies are the same. You want the one that will provide the best protection if you were ever to become unable to work due to disability.

This is determined by the clauses and definitions included in the policy. One of the most important definitions to check is the definition of disabled.

The definition that you want is called “own occupation.” This means that you are considered disabled if you are unable to work your own occupation. Some policies require you to be unable to work any job to be considered disabled.

As a surgeon earning hundreds of thousands a year, you don’t want to end up being denied your disability benefits because you can still work full-time in another (lower-paying) job.

Learn more about long-term disability insurance and get free quotes from some of the top insurance companies here: The Complete Guide to Disability Insurance for Physicians.


Building a Retirement From Your Annual Salary

Another important part of a surgeon’s financial health is how well they are preparing for retirement. Since surgeons earn some of the highest salaries in the nation, they may not think of saving for retirement as a high priority.

However, the earlier you start saving for retirement, the better your retirement life will be.

Physicians can feel a bit overwhelmed and not know which route to take with all the options out there.

Of course, the options available to you depend on your employment model. For example, employed surgeons and self-employed surgeons have different retirement plans available to them.

Most physicians can take advantage of some type of 401k plan. However, those employed in a non-profit organization get an account called a 403b.

Those who are owners or partners in a private practice can take advantage of profit-sharing or cash balance plans.

All surgeons should take advantage of a Roth IRA to maximize their retirement savings. Learn all about your retirement planning options here: The Complete Guide to Physician Retirement Planning.


Effective Tax Planning

Two certain things, as Benjamin Franklin said, are death and taxes. But you can lower your tax burden with effective tax planning.

As a high earner, surgeons can save thousands of dollars with one missed deduction or credit.

Physicians can also make some financial moves that will lower how much they have to pay in taxes, but many are unaware of these.

That’s why it is wise for surgeons to use a professional tax advisor to at least look over their tax returns before sending them in.

Our Beginner’s Guide to Physician Tax Planning is a great place to start.


General surgeons should feel confident that they will continue to be in high demand.

Since 16% of the country’s population is over the age of 65, and this percentage is only expected to increase, general surgeons should also expect the demand for their expertise to increase over time.

With the information above, surgeons can do their best to position themselves in the right location and in the right practice setting to increase their salary.

Contact Physicians Thrive to learn more about how you can make the highest salary and strategies to maximize your earnings over the course of your career.

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