Are Doctors Rich? (The Truth About Physicians’ Net Worth)

Updated on: December 3, 2023
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Written By Dr Ollie

Every article is fact-checked by a medical professional. However, inaccuracies may still persist.

The general public’s perception of doctors is that they’re rich professionals who drive nice cars and live in big houses.

This can potentially result in students only going to medical school because of hopes of exotic holidays and expensive clothes.

But are doctors really as rich as everyone thinks they are?

Doctors are rich compared to the average person. They generally hold high-paying jobs with good opportunities for career progression. However, doctors may not be as rich as the general public believes, due to a combination of factors from student loan debt to professional indemnity fees.

Whether or not you consider doctors to be rich really depends on what your definition of ‘rich’ is.

While doctors do generally benefit from above-average salaries, it’s not always as simple as this translating to someone being ‘rich.’

Are Doctors Rich In The UK?

When discussing wealth and high-income professions, doctors often come to mind. However, the perception of doctors being universally rich might not necessarily be accurate.

When considering whether doctors in the UK are rich or not, we first have to decide what ‘rich’ actually means.

The Office for National Statistics found that the median household disposable income in the UK was £32,300 in the financial year ending in 2022.

The top 5% of earners in the UK, on the otherhand, had an annual income of approximately £80,000 or more. (This is all pre-tax and this information also doesn’t take into account other assets.)

Are Doctors Rich Pixel Infographic

For the purpose of this discussion, I’m going to define rich as being within the top 5% of earners- equating to a salary of roughly £80,000 or above.

Now, according to the Health Careers NHS website, a foundation doctor working in the NHS (which is a junior doctor in their first two years of work) will earn a salary of approximately £32,398 to £37,303 per year.

Following these first couple years of work, as a doctor continues up the training ladder and enters into their specialty training, their salary increases to between £43,000 and £63,000.

These salary ranges for doctors in training are far below the top 5% of earners. But, compared to the UK’s median average salary of £31,285 per year, doctors do quite favourably.

Based upon this, it suggests that a foundation year doctor will be earning a similar amount to the UK’s average salary, depending on where they sit in the pay bracket.

Comparing the median average salary to the salary junior doctors receive in their speciality training suggests that doctors are doing well financially, but I think it’s fair to say that they would definitely not be considered extremely rich.

NHS consultants in comparison earn a basic salary of £93,666 to £126,281 per year, depending on the length of their service. 

This pay range would therefore put them in the top 5% of earners and so I think it’s fair to say they would be considered ‘rich.’

Are Doctors Rich Compared To Other Professions?

It can be quite difficult to compare how rich doctors are to other professionals due to a relative lack of up-to-date data on the subject.

As one example, an average lawyer will earn approximately £68,700.

This figure is higher than that for a doctor in their specialty training, but lower than a consultant’s salary.

However, just as with doctors, a lawyer’s salary will depend on a huge number of other factors, from experience to expertise to employer.

When looking at whether doctors are rich compared to other professionals, it’s also important to consider how their salaries have changed over time.

For doctors, all the data seems to point pretty definitively to the fact that pay is decreasing.

For example, the British Medical Association stated that junior doctors’ pay in the UK has fallen by 26% since 2008/2009, once you account for inflation.

The Nuffield Trust describes that a consultant’s pay has decreased by 11% between 2011 and 2021.

While doctors are definitely doing well compared to a median income, their spending power has clearly reduced over the years- both compared to the average person and other professionals.

Wealth Beyond An NHS Salary

While the vast majority of doctors in the UK work primarily for the NHS, many will have income streams in addition to their NHS salary.

Investments

While an NHS salary offers a reliable income source for doctors, many choose to invest their earnings to build wealth over time.

Investments can vary from stocks and shares to asset classes such as property or start-up businesses.

By managing an effectively diversified portfolio over time, doctors can enjoy a high rate of return, thus contributing to an increased overall net worth.

Private Practice

Another avenue doctors can explore to accumulate wealth is by working in a private practice.

Many doctors choose to open their own private clinics or work part-time alongside their NHS commitments.

This offers additional income and flexibility, allowing them to charge fees according to their schedule and expertise.

As private practice fees often exceed those received in the NHS, doctors can substantially increase their income, leading to greater wealth in the long run.

Secondary Incomes

In addition to investments and private practices, doctors can also generate secondary incomes through various means, such as medical writing, consulting, teaching or providing expert testimony in legal cases.

Leveraging their skills and knowledge outside of direct patient care can lead to increased earning potential, ultimately contributing to a higher net worth.

While these endeavours require time and effort, many doctors value the financial benefits and personal fulfilment that come with pursuing supplemental income opportunities.

Consequently, doctors can amass wealth beyond their NHS salary through various avenues, each offering unique ways to increase earning potential and financial security.

Regional Differences In Income

In the United Kingdom, there are notable regional differences in the income levels of doctors and other medical professionals.

One of the primary reasons for this disparity is the varying cost of living, property prices, and average earnings between different regions.

In general, London and the South East are known to have both the highest cost of living and salaries.

An aerial view of London

This is due to a combination of high property prices and an increased demand for healthcare services in these areas.

Consequently, doctors working in these regions often receive higher salaries compared to their counterparts in other parts of the country.

In a contrasting example, median After Housing Cost (AHC) incomes have historically been lower in the North and Wales.

Over the years, however, these regions have seen some narrowing of the income gap with regards to their southern counterparts, partially due to a redistribution of household rent and mortgage payments.

Why Doctors May Not Be As Rich As You Think

While doctors can earn good salaries, factors such as high levels of debt, long hours, high overhead costs, and limited earning potential in some specialties can impact their ability to accumulate wealth.

Here are five reasons why doctors may not be as rich as people think:

1. Student Debt

Although nowhere near American college fees, doctors training in the UK will still need to pay tuition fees for at least 5 years, but this can be up to 8 if a student takes a graduate entry route into medicine.

Doctors may have to allocate a significant portion of their income towards paying off their student loans, which can limit their ability to save money and invest in other assets.

High levels of student debt can also impact a doctor’s ability to make other financial decisions, such as purchasing a home or starting a business.

Doctors with high levels of debt may not be able to qualify for a mortgage or may not have the financial resources to start a business, which can limit their ability to generate additional income beyond their primary job as a doctor.

2. Late Earning Progression

Becoming a doctor requires a significant investment of time and money in education and training, which can delay the start of a doctor’s earning potential.

For example, a general surgeon may not start earning their consultant salary until their late 30s.

This delay in earning potential can impact a doctor’s ability to accumulate wealth over time, especially when combined with other factors such as high levels of debt and limited earning potential in some specialties.

While doctors are well paid professionals, this pay is relatively backloaded in their career, meaning during the long year years of training doctors are arguably underpaid for their expertise and hours they put in.

3. High Overhead Costs

Malpractice insurance can be a significant overhead cost for doctors. It’s not a legal requirement to have, but almost every doctor does have it.

Malpractice insurance protects doctors from lawsuits filed by patients who claim that they were harmed by the doctor’s actions or inactions.

Malpractice insurance can be expensive, especially for doctors in high-risk specialties such as obstetrics or neurosurgery or those working in private practice.

4. Long Hours And Stress

Long hours and high stress can impact a doctor’s ability to accumulate wealth in several ways.

Doctors who work long hours may have less time to devote to other income-generating activities, such as investing or starting a side business.

This can limit their ability to generate additional income beyond their primary job as a doctor.

Additionally, high levels of stress can lead to burnout, which can impact a doctor’s ability to work and earn money.

Burnout can lead to decreased productivity, increased absenteeism, and even early retirement, all of which can impact a doctor’s ability to earn money and accumulate wealth.

5. Poor Financial Planning

Like anyone else, doctors are susceptible to making poor financial decisions that can negatively impact their finances.

For example, doctors may overspend on luxury items such as cars, houses, or holidays, which can eat into their savings and limit their ability to accumulate wealth.

Doctors may feel pressure to maintain a certain lifestyle or to invest in certain assets because they feel that it is expected of them. This pressure can lead to overspending or making poor financial decisions that do not align with their long-term financial goals.

Furthermore, doctors may not have a solid understanding of personal finance and investing, which can lead to poor financial decisions.

Are Doctors Millionaires?

Considering that doctors will spend the majortiy of their careers working as a consultant with a significant salary, you might wonder whether most doctors become millionaires?

On balance, I think it’s fair to say that some doctors will become millionaires, but by no means all.

Whether a doctor is rich or not depends on the definition of ‘rich’

An observer investigation found that there are over 20 doctors in the UK who are earning over one million pounds per year, with many more earning well over 500,000.

However, these numbers don’t reflect the average doctor nor what percentage of UK doctors have a total net worth of over a million pounds.

According to a 2021 survey by Medscape, the average net worth for a doctor in the UK was approximately £480,000.

This placed UK doctors as the third highest paid in the world, behind the US and Germany.

In the US it’s thought that around 56% of doctors have a net worth of over a million dollars.

While the UK’s percentage is presumably lower than this, I think it’s fair to assume that a fair proportion of UK doctors are millionaires.

Final Thoughts

While some doctors may achieve a high income and accumulate wealth over time, the journey towards financial stability and wealth can be long and challenging.

Moreover, not all doctors pursue their profession for financial gain, as many are primarily motivated by their passion for healthcare and desire to make a difference in people’s lives.

When you look at the numbers, it’s pretty clear that doctors do earn a lot of money, generally well over the average UK salary.

However, just because they have a high salary doesn’t automatically equate to being rich. Doctors can have large, often forgotten liabilities, that can significantly reduce their net worth.

Despite this, once they’ve completed their training, doctors do have formidable earning potentials which can rapidly move them towards being millionaires later on in their careers.

About the author
After studying medicine at the University of Leicester, Dr Ollie now works as a junior doctor in London. His interests include medical education and expedition medicine, as well as having a strong belief in the importance of widening access to medicine.