Industry Trends Physician

General surgery salaries – a look at Medscape’s 2017 report

When it comes to compensation, general surgeons land in the top 10 high-paying specialties. According to the Medscape General Surgeon Physician Compensation Report 2017, they ranked tenth, with an average compensation of $352,000. This represents a nine percent increase since the previous year’s survey. The top three highest-earning specialties were orthopedists ($489,000), plastic surgeons ($440,000), and cardiologists ($410,000). As you’ll see in these insights from Medscape’s report on general surgery salaries, there’s much more to the story than just the bottom line numbers. Let’s take a quick look at highlights from the latest national survey responses.

Weatherby Healthcare - general surgery salaries - image of medscape earnings graph by specialty

Where you work makes a difference – regional insights

General surgery salaries varied by region in 2017. The highest average compensation was reported in the north central part of the country  ($392,000) and in the northwest ($388,000), while the rates dropped to $307,000 in the northeast.

Weatherby Healthcare - general surgery salaries - image of medscape salary report graph of compensation by region


Less than half (48 percent) of all the general surgeons surveyed feel they are fairly compensated, ranking them below the middle of all physicians. Of those who are not satisfied with their compensation, 31 percent believe they deserved to be earning between 11 percent and 25 percent more, while 16 percent believe their current income should be increased by more than 75 percent.

Weatherby Healthcare - general surgery salaries - image of Medscape graph showing general surgeons' salary expectations

General surgery salaries don’t always reveal job expectations

General surgeons are busy people. Nearly half  (47 percent) of general surgeons surveyed spend more than 45 hours each week with patients, up from 45 percent in the previous year’s survey.

Weatherby Healthcare - general surgery salaries - image of Medscape resport slide showing hours spent with patients

Broken down by minute, 13 to 24 minutes was the average time office-based surgeons personally spend with each patient (64 percent), while 27 percent spend 12 minutes or less, and 8 percent spend 25 minutes or more.

Weatherby Healthcare - general surgery salaries - image of Medscape report graph showing minutes per patient visit

And when it comes to bureaucratic tasks, such as paperwork and administrative duties, 65 percent of general surgeons devote 10 hours or more each week. When that question was posed to all physicians, only 56 percent said they put in at least 10 hours per week.

Top job rewards and challenges in general surgery

When asked to identify the most rewarding aspect of the job, over a third of general surgeons (36 percent) chose “gratitude/relationships with patients” and “being very good at what I do/finding answers, diagnoses (30 percent). Fewer respondents cited making good money at a job they like (12 percent), making the world a better place (11 percent), and being proud to be a doctor (7 percent). Interestingly, 2 percent said they find nothing rewarding about their jobs.

Weatherby Healthcare - general surgery salaries - image of Medscape report graph showing rewards of being a general surgeon

When asked to identify the biggest challenges they face at work, nearly one-third (32 percent) felt most challenged by “rules and regulations.” Other responses included having to work longer hours for less pay (17 percent) and trouble getting fair reimbursement from Medicare and/or other insurers (12 percent). Worrying about being sued was a challenge for 10 percent of respondents.

Weatherby Healthcare - general surgery salaries - image of Medscape report graph showing top challenges for general surgeons

On a positive note, a whopping 77 percent of general surgeons said they would still choose medicine if they had it to do over again. Of those, 82 percent would again choose general surgery as their specialty.

Closing thoughts about career development for general surgeons

If you are among the majority who have no regrets about becoming a general surgeon, but might like to explore the higher-paying regions of the country or supplement what you consider unsatisfactory compensation, locum tenens opportunities may serve you well. These temporary assignments also allow you to work as much or as little as you like, and significantly reduce the bureaucracy associated with a career in medicine.

About the author

Lisa Daggett

Lisa Daggett is well-versed on the topic of locum tenens staffing and was a regular contributor to LocumLife, Healthcare Traveler, and Travel Nurse magazines. She served as associate editor of RN Magazine and as an editorial assistant for Business & Health.


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