Ophthalmologist Salaries: What Should You Be Making?

Ophthalmologists are generally happy in their careers. In fact, 94% surveyed by Medscape said they would choose the same career if they had a chance to pick again.

But, only 55% of ophthalmologists feel fairly compensated.

How much should you expect to earn from full-time employment in ophthalmology?

We’re here to answer that question.

As with any job in healthcare, exact salaries depend on a range of factors, but we’ve compiled some info as a starting point.

This article will delve into the many factors that can affect your annual salary. We’ll also give you some tactics to use to ensure that your income is above the national average.


Average Ophthalmologist Salary

Depending on where you look for compensation data, the average salary of an ophthalmologist could range from $200,000 to almost $400,000.

According to Medscape, the average yearly salary of an ophthalmologist is $379,000.

SalaryExpert has the next highest number, reporting an average salary of $316,566.

Salary.com’s data falls within that same range, listing $304,200 as the average base salary for an ophthalmologist. But, they emphasize that physicians in the 25th percentile earn $255,658, and those in the 10th percentile earn only $211,502.

From here, the numbers begin to dip into the sub-$250k range. Comparably claims that the average ophthalmologist makes about $207,500, Payscale.com lists $216,588 as the average yearly income.


Factors That Affect an Ophthalmologist’s Salary

With such a wide salary range, you may be wondering what factors affect the expected salary of an ophthalmologist.

The factors below are the ones that have the biggest impact:

  • Years of experience
  • Location
  • Type of practice

Years of Experience

Medscape’s Residents Salary & Debt Report shows that the average pay for a medical resident is $64,000 per year. This number jumps slightly each year as a reward for surviving another year of residency.

As an ophthalmologist, you can expect to make more money as you gain experience. Payscale shows a slight increase in income within the first four years with a more significant increase in the 5th and 10th years.

Location

Just as where you live impacts your cost of living, it can also increase your hourly wage. When it comes to medical job titles, the demand for your specialty in a certain location can also increase your average base salary.

In certain states, ophthalmologists earn more on average than in other states.

Top-Paying States

According to ZipRecruiter, the best-paid ophthalmologists live in these states:

Granted, the average salaries they list are much lower than the compensation data gathered from other sources. But at the very least, it offers an idea of where to look for the best pay.

Lowest-Paying States

That same table lists these states as the lowest-paying states for ophthalmologists:

Related: The 10 Best States to Practice Medicine

Type of Practice

Doctor administering eye test to patient

According to Medscape’s compensation survey for ophthalmologists, those who are self-employed earn $395,000 on average.

Employed physicians, on the other hand, earn an average of $391,000.

This data confirms that you can make slightly more money by going into private practice. But, starting a practice is a big decision and should be weighed very carefully (although we have a guide to starting your own ophthalmology practice that will help).

Hospitals have the highest demand for many medical specialties and are usually the easiest places to start out. The amount they pay doctors depends on their overall revenue.

However, for ophthalmologists, an outpatient clinic may be more lucrative.

According to one source, those employed by a hospital earn around $205,000 per year, while those working in an outpatient clinic can earn up to $68,000 more per year.

That same source shows that some of the highest-paying job openings are found in healthcare organizations, which pay as much as $348,000 a year.

As always, those who work in an academic setting earn the lowest salaries — roughly $173,000 on average.


Additional Ways to Increase Your Income as an Ophthalmologist

There are some things that ophthalmologists can do to increase their earning potential.

Here are some strategies:

Buy an Office Building

If you are self-employed, create a passive income stream by purchasing a medical office building and renting out the extra spaces.

Not only will you earn money, but you will also save money on rental payments.

Hire Assistants

Very few ophthalmologists hire physician assistants, but they can be very handy. With a PA handling simple appointments, you can see more patients.

According to one ophthalmologist who runs his own practice, he prefers to use sub-specialized optometrists instead.

He admits that a PA could potentially serve the same role. But, he points out that they might not be able to prescribe treatment plans for eye injuries, and therefore may not be as valuable as an assistant with an optometry background.

Practice a Subspeciality

An ophthalmologist may find that they can charge more if they develop a niche or subspecialty, such as pediatrics or oculoplastics.

The average ophthalmologist is considered a “comprehensive ophthalmologist.” These physicians provide general eye care and treat common conditions like glaucoma and cataracts.

Ophthalmology subspecialists attend an extra year of fellowship where they learn procedures specific to certain parts of the eye (cornea, retina, etc). Having the skills to treat less-common eye conditions could help you increase your salary.

Embrace Bonuses

Every ophthalmologist should take advantage of bonus opportunities. According to Medscape, the average incentive bonus for an ophthalmologist is $87,000 per year.

You can even get a hefty one-time signing bonus through a new employment contract. Of course, you may have to do some negotiating to get this type of offer.

Learn how to do this through our guide: How to Ask For a Signing Bonus

How to Negotiate Your Ophthalmology Employment Contract

Speaking of negotiations, one of the best ways to ensure that your annual salary meets your expectations is to negotiate your employment contract to reflect those numbers.

Of course, you can’t expect negotiations to go exactly how you please — there must be some compromise.

One way to ensure that you are getting a fair deal from your employment contract is to have your contract reviewed by a professional team of lawyers and accountants.

These professionals can protect you from unfair contract terms. They will ensure the contract is complete and that all terms are clearly defined:

It’s important to have your employment contract reviewed whenever any changes are made to them. This includes when you are entering or renewing a contract, of course.

But, it also includes when you are leaving a contract, renegotiating a contract or changing your compensation and benefits package, or when you become a partner in the company.

We want to make sure that you get fair compensation. Learn about our contract review and negotiation services here.c

Ophthalmologists and Their Student Loan Debt

Ophthalmologists carry a heavy burden of student loan debt. The steps to financial independence include paying these loans off as quickly and efficiently as possible.

There are several options that any physician can take advantage of, the most popular being employer-sponsored loan forgiveness.

According to Merritt Hawkins, in 2019, at least 75% of employers in the medical industry offer loan forgiveness, and the average amount forgiven is $101,571.

That can be very helpful for cutting down your debt and working your way towards an early retirement.

If you aren’t lucky enough to find an employer that offers this incentive, you still have options that can significantly reduce your student loan debt, or at least make it more affordable to pay them each month.

Learn all about how to do this in our Full Breakdown to Medical School Student Loans.


Disability Insurance to Protect Your Salary

Two men sitting discussing contract

As you begin to reach milestones in your medical career, you need to take steps to protect your salary and ensure that all your hard work is rewarded.

Unfortunately, as much as we try to stay safe and care for our health, illness and injury can befall us all. This is where a strong disability insurance policy saves the day.

In the event that a disability prevents you from earning an income, your policy will allow you to pay your bills and maintain the quality of living you’re accustomed to.

But, disability policies include all kinds of definitions and clauses, and they all have different terms. Before you buy, make sure you understand the different types of disability insurance so you can pick the right one for you.

Learn more in our Full Guide to Disability Insurance.


Building a Retirement From Your Annual Salary

Every ophthalmologist plans to retire at some point. The earlier you plan for this day, the easier it will come.

There are several ways to build your retirement plan around your job and your personal preferences.

For the Employed Ophthalmologist

Hospital or clinic-employed ophthalmologists will always be offered a 401k account if the healthcare organization is a for-profit organization.

If the clinic or hospital is non-profit or government-run, you must open a 403b account to save for retirement. You may also open a 457b or a 401a account.

For Self-Employed Ophthalmologist

If you’re self-employed, you have many more options open to you.

You can open a 401k plan, but you can also use other options determined by the owner or owners of the practice.

These include profit-sharing retirement plans, cash balance plans, and more.

For Either

Both employed and self-employed physicians can always open up another retirement fund to supplement their 401k.

You can choose between a traditional IRA, Roth IRA, or some other type of account.

You might also want to put some of your earnings into real estate or another investment.

Understandably, it may be overwhelming to consider retirement planning. You might wonder if you are saving enough or if you should switch to a better plan.

We’ve helped thousands of physicians just like you to create a solid retirement plan that is feasible and effective. We can help you too.

Learn all about our retirement planning services today.


Effective Tax Planning

When it comes to growing your income, effective tax planning is one of the best strategies.

A professional tax review can reveal the credits and deductions you’ve been missing — saving you thousands!

For example, you can lower your taxable income by opening a health savings account (HSA), investing in a 529 plan, and making charitable donations.

To learn more about how to leverage these money moves to reduce your tax burden and get some help with your unique tax situation, contact our tax planning team.


As you inspect your patients’ corneas and retinas, it’s also important to inspect your career path and ensure that you are reaching your earning potential.

As you gain experience and skills, your income should increase. But wherever you are in your career, there are steps you can take to increase your salary.

There’s no sense in earning less than you deserve or putting your hard-earned money at risk. With a team of financial advisors on your side, you don’t have to worry about it. Contact us today.

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