The average orthopedic surgery salary increased by 9% from 2020 to 2021, according to Medscape’s 2022 Orthopedist Compensation Report. The annual survey looks at orthopedist compensation trends and how orthopedic surgeons’ salaries compare to other specialties. It also reports on the difference between self-employed and employed orthopedic surgeons’ salaries and whether orthopedic surgeons feel they are fairly compensated.
Orthopedic surgeons earned an average salary of $557,000 in 2021
Although 56% of orthopedic surgeons reported some decline in compensation in 2020, salaries for most orthopedists increased in 2021. Orthopedic surgeons earn one of the highest salaries among all specialties, outranked only by plastic surgeons ($576,000 annually). Other top-paying specialties include cardiologists ($490,000), otolaryngologists ($469,000), and urologists ($461,000).
Orthopedist incentive bonus in 2021
Orthopedic surgeons earned an average incentive bonus of $126,000 in 2021, the highest of all physician specialties surveyed, followed by ophthalmologists ($100,000) and cardiologists ($85,000). This is an increase from $116,000 in 2020.
However, while the dollar amount of incentive bonuses increased, the percentage remains at 23% of the total orthopedist salary, the same reported for 2020.
Employed vs. self-employed orthopedic surgeons
The average annual salary for orthopedic surgeons employed by hospitals and health systems was $579,000 in 2021, about 8% more than the $537,000 self-employed orthopedic surgeons earned on average. This is a change from 2020, when self-employed orthopedic surgeons out earned employed orthopedic surgeons by 6%.
About 5% of orthopedic surgeons worked locum tenens or moonlighted to supplement their income. Orthopedic surgeon Dr. Nicholas Kusnezov maintains a full-time primary practice while also providing periodic weekend trauma call coverage as a locum on the side. He points out that a high-volume and high-acuity trauma center warrants much higher compensation for locum tenens coverage than a low-acuity, primarily clinical assignment. Similarly, a more remote location, which may be difficult to access, warrants higher compensation than a similar facility that is close to a major airport, according to Dr. Kusnezov.
The most and least rewarding parts of an orthopedist’s job
As with physicians surveyed in all specialties, orthopedic surgeons said the best part of their job was cultivating relationships with patients (33%), followed by being good at what they do and finding diagnoses (27%).
The administrative side of the job, such as dealing with reimbursement issues, rules and regulations, and EHRs can be a downside for some physicians. Orthopedic surgeons spent an average of 14 hours a week on paperwork and administration in 2021. In comparison, infectious disease physicians spent the most time on paperwork (19.8 hours), while anesthesiologists spent the least time (10 hours).
Most orthopedic surgeons would choose the same specialty
About 52% of orthopedic surgeons say they feel fairly compensated, down slightly from 53% in 2020 and 60% in 2019. Despite this, 78% of orthopedic surgeons surveyed said they would choose medicine again as a career, and 97% said they would choose orthopedics again.
Overall, the outlook for orthopedic surgeons is bright. The average orthopedic surgery salary continues to increase, orthopedists spend fewer hours on paperwork and administrative burdens than other specialties, and they have a high specialty satisfaction rate. With high demand for orthopedics, there continues to be opportunities to supplement physician income by working locum tenens and moonlighting.
Chart images from Medscape.com