There's a reason parents dream their kids will grow up to be doctors -- the profession consistently tops "highest paid" lists, medically geared or not, in addition to being relatively recession-proof as health care is always a necessity.
Doctors are at the heart of the health care system, and as such they dominate our list of the top 10 highest paying medical jobs. Salaries vary widely based on location, years of experience, and other factors -- but when it comes to maximum earning potential,* not all specialties are created equal.
Surgeons specialize in operating on patients in order to cure, repair, or remove disease or injury. Because the human body is so complex surgeons often specialize and become an expert on specific body parts or regions. Cardiac and neurosurgeons are the highest paid of all surgeon specialties, followed closely by oral surgeons and then trauma and general surgeons.
Anesthesiologists are doctors who specialize in the pain management of surgical patients. They examine patients and determine what type and how much anesthesia to administer, as well as actually administering the anesthesia, monitoring its efficacy, and making adjustments as needed during surgical procedures.
Obstetricians specialize in women's health, specifically the treatment and diagnosis of issues related to the female reproductive system. Gynecologists focus even more tightly on pregnancy and childbirth. The professions often overlap and OB/GYNs can choose to specialize in areas such as fertility, cancer, or primary care.
Orthodontists are specialized dentists focusing on the prevention and treatment of irregularities in the teeth, jaw relationships, and facial structure around the mouth. They're responsible for prescribing and applying braces, retainers, and other corrective medical devices as well as performing cosmetic treatments to enhance physical appearance, such as closing unsightly gaps between teeth.
Psychiatrists study, diagnose and treat disorders, illness, and abnormalities of the mind with a combination of psychotherapy and medication. They can practice generally or specialize in areas such as child psychiatry, substance abuse, or social/development disorders.
Another dental specialty, prosthodontists are experts in the restoration and repair of missing or damaged teeth as well as other oral structures related to the jaw and mouth, usually as a means of preserving or repairing a person's appearance, comfort, health, and/or function. Prosthodontists are experts with crowns, bridges, veneers, dentures, and even surgical implants and reconstructions.
7. Internist, general
Internists focus on the non-surgical treatment of disorders and diseases of the internal organs. They usually focus on adults only and often provide long term, comprehensive care to patients and deal with both acute and chronic illnesses as well as overlapping and coexistent diseases.
Podiatrists are doctors with expertise in treating disorders and diseases of the foot, ankle, and lower leg including arch problems, injuries, corns and callouses, and diseases that affect the foot such as diabetes. Podiatrists can specialize even further and focus on areas such as orthopedics, surgery, or primary care.
9. Dentist (general)
Dentists are doctors that focus on the treatment of all things within the oral cavity, most commonly the teeth and tissues surrounding the teeth. The field is broken down into many specialties; general dentists treat patients of all ages and in addition to treating existing issues focus heavily on patient teaching regarding preventive measures like oral hygiene and diet.
10. Family and General Practitioner
Family and general practitioners are what most people think of when they hear the term "doctor," as they are often the first doctor patients see within the health care system. They provide comprehensive care to people of all ages and are able to treat a wide variety of disorders and injuries affecting all parts of the body, although they refer patients with very complex or serious conditions to appropriate specialists.
*All salary data current as of April 2011 and courtesy of Payscale.com
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