Workforce trends

The 15 most in-demand specialties in 2019 and their base salaries, according to physician recruiters

Recruiters are looking for physicians in 15 specialties. Is yours among the most wanted?

Family physicians are the most sought-after specialists by employers using physician recruiters in 2019, noted Merritt Hawkins, a physician staffing agency, in a recent report on physician recruiting.

To prepare the report, Merritt Hawkins examined data from over 3,100 permanent physician and advanced practitioner search assignments at Merritt Hawkins and its sister staffing agencies, Kendal & Davis and Staff Care.

This is 13th consecutive year that family physicians were the most requested by employers. It is also the fourth year running that psychiatry landed in the No. 2 slot.

Shift to value-based compensation

Among the other trends noted in the report is an increase in employers shifting toward a quality/value-based physician compensation model. In 2019, 56% of physician production bonus formulas feature quality-based metrics, up from 42% in 2018.

The following list ranks the most in-demand physician specialties along with the average base salary offered for each.

The 15 most in-demand physician specialties in 2019 and their base salaries
Specialty: Average base salary:
1. Family medicine $239,000
2. Psychiatry $273,000
3. Ob-gyn $318,000
4. Internal medicine $264,000
5. Radiology $387,000
6. Hospitalist $268,000
7. Neurology $317,000
8. Gastroenterology $495,000
9. Pediatrics $242,000
10. Cardiology Noninvasive: $441,000;
invasive: $648,000
11. Emergency medicine $382,000
12. Orthopedic surgery $536,000
13. Anesthesiology $404,000
14. Dermatology $420,000
15. Pulmonology $399,000

Related reading:

The 10 specialties with the highest and lowest compensation in 2018

5 medical specialties you didn’t know existed


  1. Alan Philippi, DO

    Has any analysis been done on the demand for Occupational Medicine specialists?

    I am an Occupational and Environmental Medicine specialist and have watched the demand and salaries go up substantially for this specialty the past few years.

  2. Internal, DO

    If family medicine is so highly requested, why in the world are the salaries so low? Also, where I work, internal med hospitalists make roughly $350K. Texas salary.

    1. Cmwg

      Insurance reimbursement lowest for primary care, so fewer new grads entering primary care due to poor compensation resulting in shortage but poor incentive to attract new drs to primary care.

  3. Joel M Levin

    In retrospect I was enamored with Radiology and were I to do it over, I would choose it as my career. I can’t tell you why I chose Internal Medicine other than being left handed was generally discouraged by the Chief Residents and Dr Warren Cole from the operative table. Perhaps I chose IM because I was sickly as a child and my family doctor was the perfect holistic doctor, he became my role model.

  4. William Babson MD

    We are seeing community and rural hospitals closing which leaves many people without adequate char. One reason is overspecialization. I worry that specialty organizations have controlled the American Board of Surgery and other Boards so that we are no longer preparing physicians to answer the needs of our country. William Babson Jr MD

  5. Mark Cohen

    Although a career in rheumatology was not as lucrative as other medical specialties, this was more than offset by the intellectual stimulation, the chance to be a “doctor’s doctor (i.e. a consultant) , and having to know a great deal in many different subspecialty areas (Derm, nephrology, cardiology pulmonary, hematology, neurology, GI, and more as all these systems can be affected by the multi-system diseases seen by rheumatologists.

  6. Neuropathologist, MD/PhD

    I do not see Pathology represented on this list! Yet again, the “black box” of medicine. Considering how necessary our services are for many of the specialities on this list (and urgent, judging from the number of pages we receive from some), I am disappointed to be consistently “forgotten” as a specialty.

  7. Ed

    I am a retired pathologist, and 14/15 of the salaries noted were above mine, regional location considered. I enjoyed every moment, problem solving and diagnostic and molecular advances. That put me on the side of the “bad news” for the front end folks who encountered the patient. Observing medicine for 40+ years, I am puzzled by corporate medicine not appreciating (my personal opinion) the front end of patient care.

  8. Beth Adams M.D.

    Why is it that Family Medicine is the most in demand specialty, yet has the lowest compensation? THAT needs to change. Also, new grads would benefit from loan repayment, but there also needs to be changes for those of us who have already paid off our loans and are sticking it out in primary care. Burn-out and leaving primary care for a more balanced life is going to continue to drain the availability of good Family Med docs/Primary Care. When will employers and insurance companies figure this out and try to put a stop to this?

    1. Jon Preston

      I’m an anesthesiologist at a level one trauma center. I work nights, weekends and holidays while the vast majority of Family Medicine docs are enjoying their families or nestled snug in bed. Every single time I touch a patient it is life or death. It is common for a critically injured or ill patient to arrive on my OR table near death; often several times a day. I can’t speak about the balanced life issues you cite with family medicine or the factors that cause burn-out, but the grass isn’t greener all around you, and the differences in salary sometimes reflect the acuity of care given. If the salary is the primary objection you have with family medicine, you would be disappointed to learn that some of those higher salaried specialties come at a cost. Set your alarm to 01:14 am one night. When it goes off leap out of that bed in scrubs and run to an OR to find a patient in PEA with an ED thoracotomy and somebody squeezing the heart. Now save them while others try to stop the blood loss from multiple injuries. Intubate them. Transuse 40 units of blood products, start an arterial line, get central access, give a stack of epi, levophed, calcium, bicarb, Vasopressin, amiodarone and keep them alive. Defibrillate them too. After struggling at it for a few hours, do it again on another patient. No sane person would chose this at a salary equivalent to less stressful paths.

      1. Will

        Agreed. I too am an anesthesiologist at a level 1 trauma center. I sleep or try to sleep in a cot 60 nights a year in a terrible excuse for a bed. Since we average about 2.5 hrs rest a night, our next day is shot too. Maybe if these centers reduced the amount of pointless administrative positions, there would be more dollars to spread around to those actually working

      2. Ron

        I was an anaesthetist in England and ended up in family medicine here in Massachusetts. I will be happier growing old in family medicine than in anesthesiology. Be happy where you are, unclutter your life!

      3. Doug

        Sixty nights per year in a cot? That is five days of work per month compared to the 5+ days per week most physicians work. Yes you probably work a 24 hour shift but, as you read, most physicians spend 7 hours seeing office patients and then some go to the hospital to round and then go home and chart for three or so hours so we end up working twelve plus hours per day. I agree your expertise and fast paced medicine deserves a high salary but, if you work 24 hour shifts, that is 120 hrs/month. I don’t know many PCP’s that work less than 60 hrs per week, and more for those of us who take weekend call, so most of us end up working at least 240 hours per month. Your hourly rate is about $280. My hourly rate is about $83. Quite a disparity. You mention you are making life and death decisions on a minute by minute basis. We make decisions that keep people alive for decades. Our clinical acumen is just as great. The example about patients that have 5+ chronic diseases, on 15 medicines seeing 5 different specialists and as a PCP it is our job to coordinate all of that in 15 minutes so we can see four patients an hour to make overhead. Add in the paperwork and fights with insurance companies to get paid and it all adds up to contribute to burnout. I am in my 31st year of practice and I still love what I do but I don’t know how much longer I can last.

    2. Andres Enriquez,MD.,

      I agree with everybody. I am a Family practitioner in El Paso, Texas. The Increase in paperwork with the demands of the insurance companies and all the different metrics are slowly killing my practice. I see the future of family practice and solo practice will be in joining a large group organization, hospital based medicine or now insurance based such as WellMed,MCCI or Human. Our autonomy is pretty much gone the burnout rate for primary care is higher and higher everyday. I’m 53 practicing for 21 years and I see myself getting out or changing as soon as possible,how sad.

  9. David Demangone, MD

    Your missing the forest for the trees. Year by year, physicians lose more of their autonomy to larger healthcare organizations primarily from the influential force of unequal reimbursement that pushes physicians to give up their autonomy, by joining larger healthcare organizations. These healthcare organizations are subsidizing physician salaries from increased reimbursements from office visit facility fees as well as actual procedure fees. Once all physicians are employed by organizations, we will be at the mercy of the healthcare organizations for our salaries. As additional cuts are made in reimbursements, the hospitals will likely cut the physician salaries first. That’s our future.

  10. Wendy Stroh

    Pathologist are physicians too. Forensic pathologists are typically paid far lower than surgical and clinical pathologists. Our salaries are lower than most physicians because we are government employee for the most part. You have to love your job, like I do, to take the financial hit.

  11. Michael Hamant

    Primary care is paid so poorly because insurance companies have decided that NP’s and PA’s can do primary care at less cost. Unfortunately, midlevels don’t know what they don’t know so they order many more tests and speciality referrals so actually cost the system more money (besides costing patients lives with a missed diagnosis). Many in the public don’t see the value in primary care MD’s with 15,000 hours of clinical training compared to 3,000 hours for midlevels. This dumbing down is regrettable. The complexity of primary care patients demands the knowledge of a physician. A midlevel seeing a URI at urgent care should not be compensated at the same rate as a PCP seeing a patient with 5-10 chronic medical problems and on 15 or more medications. The compensation difference between a 99212 and a 99214 doesn’t fairly represent the time and training needed to provide the care (roughly $42 vs $98 for 5-10 minutes vs 45 minutes of time in my state). With office overhead of $200 per hour per MD, one would have to see four level 4 visits an hour to make a decent wage, which for me is impossible if I want to provide the care the patient needs when seeing two an hour would be a stretch.
    Maybe this will help my specialty colleagues see why PCP’s are burned out and why I’m on my emr until 12 every night trying to document all the complexities of care (since paying a scribe is out of the question on my salary).

    1. L.Wentling, PA-C

      Easy cop out to blame all PAs or NPs. Obviously, and unfortunately for you, you have not had the benefit of working closely on a team with a “midlevel” of quality, who can actually enhance your patient’s care. PAs don’t pretend (or shouldn’t pretend) to take the place of MDs or DOs, just as a MD shouldn’t pretend to replace professionals of other disciplines. I’m so sorry your and your patient’s experiences have been so limited. I’m sure you could, even with your seemingly limited perception, think of certain MDs whose care has been mediocre at best and inadequate at worst, who have even misdiagnosed patients, or even made a mistake. My own actual “time and training”, years spent immersed working in various medical specialties, beside some of the very best and most skilled doctors, nurses, “midlevels”, therapists and technical specialists have been an extraordinary privilege and in turn, my patients (through me) are the beneficiaries of this. I initially find your term “dumbing down” when referring to APPs with differing “time and training” from yours to be insulting, but then realize it speaks more about your own impoverished experiences. I have had the great honor of teaching skills to DOCTORS on the job.
      I’m sorry you are so bitter, but really, we’re all suffering this current “death of the art of medicine” together. Scapegoating and condemnation of those dedicating their best efforts to the patients we serve helps no one. BTW: it’s 11pm & I’m still charting.

      1. Shannon

        Sad that Family medicine is most in demand and lowest paid. As an osteopathic family medicine physician not only do we have low reimbursement but also demand to see more patients by way of extended hours and weekends.Our specialty board is evolving into more and more hoops at higher fees, and malpractice rates are increasing. We are asked every day to give care and empathy to our patients while being beaten by a system that is at best broken and at worst soul crushing. There needs to be a change in this system and we as physicians need to stand up for ourselves, be heard at the highest levels and take back our self worth. Only when we start being stewards for ourselves will we be able to do what we started this profession for…to take great care in the diagnosis and treatment of our patients.

    2. Sharon Nolen, RN

      I am a retired ICU RN, and fixed wing flight nurse. When I kept going into SVT, I was prescribed Verapamil. I have a seizure disorder and was on Tegretol and Phenytoin. I told my doctor about feeling dizzy, and having to hold on to furniture and walls to ambulate to the restroom. He lowered the dosage. The symptoms did not change, but got worse. The pharmacist didn’t have any advice either. I started researching on my own on the internet. Verapamil makes both of the anti-convulsants I was taking go toxic, and this is what was causing the dizziness. The doctor told me he expected the pharmacy to catch the interactions. I asked the pharmacy, and they told me it isn’t listed. I manage a lot of my own medications with my new doctor, and have caught him prescribing meds to me that shouldn’t be given to someone with seizures.
      I have caught many mistakes that doctors have made both in and out of the hospital that were life threatening. Don’t put down a good RN, PA, or NP, we are often times covering a doctor’s Gluteus Maximus.
      I thank God I’m a RN.

  12. Courtney Jones

    Echoing all of the comments made by PCPs above. I’m not even 40 and already burned out as a PCP. The system is completely broken and no amount of self care is going to change that fact. I switched out of ob/gyn and regret it immensely, but my father in law had a great life as a pcp in a small town. He owned his practice and did full spectrum family med. He never burned out. It is too bad those days are over for us. If I didn’t have loan debt I would probably just switch to teaching high school.

  13. LORNA

    This article reports an average base salary for a Pediatrician as $242,000. Does this refer to General Pediatricians, or does this include Pediatric Subspecialties? The stated salary is far from my reality, after 21 years of practice, seeing 20-30 patients per day. I definitely feel punished for pursuing a career as a PCP, which allows me to administer care to children from infancy to early adulthood. In addition, coordinating care for those with complicated morbidities, and following them through several stages of development. Just curious, what is the base pay for Ambulatory Pediatricians, such as myself? I did not go into medicine to become rich. However, I never imagined the disparities in compensation, difficulties paying off student loans, and the sense of being trapped in a system of seemingly indentured servitude.

Leave a comment Please see our comment policy