Medical Professionals Still Among Highest Paid In America

When it comes to earning power, having a medical degree still pays off.

The highest earning jobs in 2009 were mostly in the health care field, ranging from surgeons to pediatricians, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, which released its annual wages report Friday.

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Specialists, in particular, earned the most. Surgeons took the lead spot, making an average of $219,770 last year, the highest average salary in the country, according to the government data.

Following them were anesthesiologists, who made an average of $211,750 last year; oral and maxillofacial surgeons at $210,710; and orthodontists at $206,190.

Obstetricians and gynecologists rounded up the top five, both raking in an average of $204,470 in 2009.

Pay Cuts Ahead?

Specialists, however, could see a pay drop in the next couple of years as the health care reform bill, signed into law this year, begins to kick in.

“The bill shifts the money from specialty to primary care,” says Paul Keckley, the executive director of the Deloitte Center for Health Solutions. “The bill says that primary care has been underpaid, and money is being shifted towards them.”

The changes may encourage more medical school students to go into primary care instead of the more lucrative specialist fields, Keckley says.

While primary doctors will most likely see their pay rise, specialists and doctors with their own practices are likely to see about a 2-percent decline in their salary, Keckley says.

“It doesn’t sound big, but if the costs increase like business costs at 3 percent or 5 percent a year, and Medicare pays them less, the doctor has to make that up with commercially insured patients or raise co-pays or find other sources of income, like wellness or nutrients, depending on their specialty,” said Keckley.

Other High-Paying Fields

Outside of health care, the only job that cracked the top ten was chief executive, with an average salary of $167,280 last year.

Further down the list: Lawyers, $129,020, petroleum engineer, $119,960; and engineering managers, $122,810.

Those with their eyes on the sky also made big bucks last year. Airline pilots, including copilots and flight engineers, earned $117,060, while air traffic controllers pulled in $106,990. Astronomers just made it into the six-figure range with $102,740.

In case you are wondering, the lowest-paying jobs were all in the food service industry.

Food preparation workers and servers earned the least in 2009, at just $18,120. Outpacing them were fast-food cooks, who earned $18,230, and dishwashers at $18,330. All were way below the national average of $43,460.