What do doctors make?

In Canada, doctors are paid above-average salaries. According to the latest labour market information from Human Resources and Skills Development Canada, doctors make between approximately $40,000 and $380,000 per year. The median salary—meaning half of these doctors make above this number and half make less—is $124,688 for general physicians (most make around $150,000 per year), and $164,551 for specialist physicians.

What doctors are paid varies dramatically depending on three factors: how much experience they have, where they work, and what kind of doctors they are. Residents (doctors-in-training) tend to make the least, usually earning between $50,000 and $60,000 a year; while specialized doctors (such as surgeons, oncologists, and radiologists) can earn much more—up to nearly $500,000 a year in certain areas, namely Ontario, Northwest Territories, and Saskatchewan.

On average, doctors earn the most in Calgary, Alberta ($118.75 per hour) and the least in Laval, Quebec ($29.50 per hour).

Pay models

There are a few different pay models for doctors in Canada. Many are paid by fee-for-service (FFS), which means they receive a flat rate for each service they bill for. “For example, a well child visit earns you a certain amount, regardless of whether the kid is cooperative and healthy or in a terrible mood with double ear infections,” says Jo Innes, an emergency department resident. The problem with this model is that the “incentive is to crank through as many patients as possible.” Innes also points out that fee-for-service doctors “have to pay for their office overhead with their fees, so they traditionally don’t do very well salary-wise.”

Other doctors are paid via alternative compensation, which includes being salaried doctors in hospitals or large physician groups; receiving pay based on patient outcomes; or being employed by organizations to deal with certain health problems. This model is “common in the UK and is gaining a foothold in Ontario,” says Innes.

Things to consider:

The stereotype of the high-rolling, Ferrari-driving doctor isn’t accurate. Doctors generally do well financially but tend to carry extremely high student debts, and loans and malpractice fees (if applicable) can take up large chunks of their income.

Some specialties pay much better than others. The highest paying tend to be radiology, dermatology, plastic surgery, orthopedics, cardiology, and anesthesiology; and the lowest paying are usually pediatrics, family medicine, internal medicine, and endocrinology.

Because doctors are so in-demand and few live in rural areas, the Canadian government developed several programs to attract doctors to remote and underserviced areas. So if you’re open to moving around and making some extra money, look into the Underserviced Area Program and The Northern and Rural Recruitment and Retention (NRRR) Initiative.

Published on June 15, 2012
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