Highest Paying Medical Specialties (UK Salaries)

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.

As you explore the world of medical specialties, it’s evident that some fields offer higher earning potential than others.

The healthcare industry is known for its lucrative job opportunities, and understanding which medical specialties offer the highest salaries can help you make informed career decisions.

While focusing solely on the monetary aspect shouldn’t be your only consideration when selecting a career in medicine, I think it is still important to be aware of your earning potential in different medical specialties.

In this article, I’m going to look at 10 of the highest paying specialties in medicine as well as looking at a few of the factors that can affect your earning potential as a doctor.

The Highest Paid Types Of Doctor

To start with, I think it’s important to look at what hard facts we have to go off when comparing the earning potential of different medical specialties.

The reality is, there really isn’t much out there!

Very few doctors like to openly brag about how much money they earn (especially not the really high earners) so I’ve had to compile this list from quite limited data.

Highest Paid Types Of Doctors Pixel Infographics

Everyone knows (or has heard the story of) a neurosurgeon/radiologist/anaesthetist who makes £800k+ a year. But, from my research, there are very few substantial surveys or papers that look at the salaries of the highest-paid doctors.

One significant difference between America (where a lot of the numbers you might see online come from) and the UK is that the UK has the NHS and America has an almost exclusively private healthcare system.

In the NHS, every consultant (the top grade of doctor) is paid the same regardless of their specialty.

Whether you’re a paediatrician or gastroenterologist, if you’ve been a doctor for the same number of years, you’ll very likely be on roughly the same salary from the NHS.

Where specialties really diverge in the UK then is their potential for private practice.

The highest-earning doctors in the UK will either work privately on the side of their NHS work or they’ll work exclusively privately.

The most substantial paper I could find on the topic was an article from 2008 looking at consultants’ NHS and private incomes in England from 2003/4.

Although slightly out of date now, the general trends will likely have remained pretty consistent.

This paper ranked the top 10 highest earning specialties in the UK as:

RankHighest Earning Specialties
1Plastic surgery
2Trauma and orthopaedic surgery
3Neurosurgery
4Otolaryngology
5Cardiology
6Ophthalmology
7Dermatology
8Oncology
9General surgery
10Gastroenterology

In the next sections, I’m going to look at each of the 10 specialties in turn, considering the factors that may be contributing them to being such lucrative areas of medicine.

If you’re interested, you might also want to check out this list of the lowest-paying medical specialties.

Plastic Surgery

The demand for cosmetic and reconstructive procedures has been on a steady rise in recent years.

With society’s increasing emphasis on physical appearance and the growing acceptance of plastic surgery, the demand for these procedures has soared.

As a result, plastic surgeons are able to charge higher fees for their services, leading to substantially higher incomes.

Moreover, plastic surgery is a highly specialised field that requires extensive training and expertise.

The level of expertise and precision required in plastic surgery commands higher fees, and patients are willing to pay a premium for the best possible results.

Additionally, plastic surgeons often have the opportunity to practice in both the cosmetic and reconstructive aspects of their field.

While cosmetic surgery focuses on enhancing physical appearance, reconstructive surgery involves restoring form and function to individuals affected by congenital anomalies, trauma, or disease.

The versatility of plastic surgeons allows them to cater to a wide range of patients, further contributing to their higher earning potential.

Trauma and Orthopaedic Surgery

Orthopaedic surgeons perform intricate surgeries involving bones, joints, ligaments, and tendons, which require a high level of skill and precision.

The complexity and technical demands of these procedures can command higher fees, which is one of the reasons contributing to their higher earning potential.

Another factor is the prevalence of musculoskeletal issues in the population.

Orthopaedic conditions such as fractures, arthritis, sports injuries, and spinal disorders are widespread.

As the ageing population continues to grow, the demand for orthopaedic care is expected to rise significantly.

This increasing demand for orthopaedic services allows surgeons to charge higher fees for their specialised expertise and the ability to provide relief and restore mobility to patients.

Additionally, orthopaedic surgeons often have the opportunity to sub-specialise within their field.

They can focus on areas such as sports medicine, joint replacement, spine surgery, or paediatric orthopaedics.

Sub-specialisation allows them to develop niche expertise, which further enhances their earning potential.

Patients seek out orthopaedic surgeons with specific expertise for their unique needs, leading to higher demand and the ability to charge higher fees.

Neurosurgery

Neurosurgery is an extremely demanding and complex field that requires extensive training and expertise.

Neurosurgeons undergo rigorous education, including a long specialty training program, to acquire the necessary skills to perform intricate brain and spinal surgeries.

The high level of technical skill and knowledge required to operate on the delicate structures of the nervous system is undoubtedly one of the reasons why neurosurgeons are paid so much.

Additionally, neurosurgery deals with critical and life-threatening conditions.

Neurosurgeons often handle cases involving brain tumours, spinal cord injuries, aneurysms, and other neurological emergencies.

The gravity of these conditions, combined with the high-stakes nature of neurosurgical procedures, justifies higher fees for their services.

Images from a CT head scan

Furthermore, neurosurgeons often face limited competition due to the specialised nature of their field.

There are relatively fewer neurosurgeons compared to other medical specialties, which creates a supply-demand imbalance.

This scarcity of neurosurgeons allows them to have a stronger negotiating position and charge higher fees for their expertise.

Moreover, neurosurgeons may have opportunities for academic or research positions, which can offer additional sources of income.

By contributing to advancements in the field, publishing research, and participating in clinical trials, neurosurgeons can enhance their reputation and attract more patients, further boosting their earning potential.

ENT

ENT (Ear, Nose, and Throat) doctors, also known as otolaryngologists, are among the highest-earning doctors when compared to other medical specialties due to several significant factors.

Firstly, ENT doctors possess a unique skill set that encompasses a wide range of conditions related to the head and neck.

They diagnose and treat disorders involving the ear, nose, throat, and related structures, including sinusitis, hearing loss, voice disorders, and even head and neck cancers.

The breadth of their expertise and the ability to manage diverse conditions is one of the reasons that allow them to command higher fees.

Additionally, the prevalence of ENT conditions is substantial.

Ear infections, sinus problems, and respiratory issues affect a significant portion of the population. The demand for ENT services is consistently high, leading to a greater volume of patients seeking specialised care.

With a steady influx of patients, ENT doctors can leverage their expertise and reputation to charge higher fees for their services.

Furthermore, ENT doctors often perform both surgical and non-surgical interventions.

They may conduct procedures such as tonsillectomies, septoplasties, and cochlear implant surgeries. The technical expertise and precision required for these surgeries undoubtedly contributes to their higher earning potential.

Moreover, ENT doctors often have the opportunity to subspecialise within their field.

They may focus on areas such as paediatric otolaryngology, otology (ear-related conditions), or rhinology (nose and sinus disorders).

Sub-specialisation allows them to develop niche expertise and attract a specific patient population seeking specialised care.

Cardiology

Cardiovascular diseases, such as heart disease, remains the leading cause of death globally.

The high prevalence of these conditions, combined with the critical nature of cardiac care, ensures a steady demand for specialised cardiology services.

Cardiologists diagnose and treat a wide range of cardiovascular disorders, perform interventions like angioplasty and stent placement, and provide ongoing management for patients with chronic heart conditions.

The complexity and seriousness of these conditions allow cardiologists to command higher fees for their expertise.

Furthermore, advancements in technology and research have led to a growing array of sophisticated diagnostic and therapeutic tools in cardiology.

Cardiologists have access to cutting-edge imaging techniques, interventional procedures, and innovative medications.

The utilisation of these advanced technologies and treatments often comes with higher costs, which contributes to the higher earning potential of cardiologists.

Additionally, cardiology often involves long-term patient relationships.

Many cardiac conditions require ongoing care and monitoring, requiring patients to see their cardiologists regularly.

This continuity of care and patient loyalty contribute to a stable patient base, allowing cardiologists to build successful practices and charge higher fees.

Ophthalmology

The field of ophthalmology deals with a wide range of eye conditions and diseases, including cataracts, glaucoma, macular degeneration, and refractive errors.

These conditions affect a large portion of the population, particularly as the global population ages.

The high prevalence of eye disorders ensures a consistent demand for specialised eye care, allowing ophthalmologists to charge higher fees for their services.

Additionally, ophthalmology encompasses both medical and surgical interventions.

Ophthalmologists not only diagnose and manage eye conditions with medications but also perform delicate surgical procedures, such as cataract extraction, laser vision correction, and retinal surgeries.

The technical skill and precision required in these surgeries, coupled with the potential for life-changing outcomes, justify the higher fees charged by ophthalmologists.

Furthermore, ophthalmologists often have the opportunity to provide elective procedures, such as LASIK or cosmetic eye surgeries.

These procedures are typically paid out-of-pocket by patients, allowing ophthalmologists to set higher fees and directly benefit from the demand for these services.

Dermatology

Dermatology is a highly sought-after field due to the increasing emphasis on skin health and appearance in society.

With the rise of social media and the desire for youthful, flawless skin, the demand for dermatological services has skyrocketed.

Dermatologists offer a wide range of treatments for conditions such as acne, eczema, psoriasis, skin cancer, and cosmetic procedures like Botox and laser resurfacing.

The high demand for these services allows dermatologists to charge higher fees for their expertise.

Moreover, dermatologists often have the opportunity to offer cosmetic dermatology services, which are typically not covered by the NHS.

Procedures like chemical peels, fillers, and hair restoration are frequently sought after by individuals seeking to improve their appearance.

The ability to provide these elective procedures allows dermatologists to generate additional revenue and contribute to their higher earning potential.

Furthermore, the field of dermatology has witnessed advancements in technology and treatment options. Innovations in laser technology, phototherapy, and targeted therapies have expanded the range of available treatments, resulting in higher costs associated with providing these advanced services.

Dermatologists who embrace and offer these cutting-edge treatments can command higher fees for their expertise.

Oncology

Oncology deals with the diagnosis, treatment, and management of cancer, which is one of the leading causes of death worldwide.

The prevalence of cancer, along with the complex nature of the disease, creates a constant demand for specialised oncology care.

Oncologists invest years of education and training to develop the expertise required to navigate the intricacies of cancer care, including understanding different types of cancer, interpreting diagnostic tests, designing treatment plans, and managing the side effects of therapy.

The high level of knowledge and skill needed to deliver effective cancer treatments justifies the higher fees charged by oncologists.

Additionally, advancements in cancer research and treatment options have expanded the range of available therapies.

Oncologists have access to innovative treatments, targeted therapies, immunotherapies, and personalised medicine approaches that have revolutionised cancer care.

The utilisation of these advanced treatments often comes with higher costs, which can contribute to the higher earning potential of oncologists.

Furthermore, oncologists often have long-term patient relationships as cancer care typically involves ongoing treatment and follow-up care.

The continuity of care and the trust established with patients over time can lead to higher patient loyalty, a larger patient base, and increased earning potential.

General Surgery

General surgery is a broad field that encompasses a wide range of surgical procedures.

General surgeons are trained to perform surgeries on various body systems, including the gastrointestinal tract, abdomen, breast, skin, and soft tissues.

The versatility and breadth of their expertise allow them to handle a diverse array of surgical cases, leading to a consistent demand for their services and the ability to charge higher fees.

Additionally, general surgeons are frequently involved in surgical subspecialties.

While they may not specialise exclusively in one area, many general surgeons develop expertise in specific procedures or subspecialties, such as minimally invasive surgery, laparoscopic surgery, or surgical oncology.

A general surgeon performing a biopsy of a breast lump

This specialised skill set allows them to attract patients seeking expertise in these areas, leading to higher earning potential.

Furthermore, general surgeons often have the opportunity to perform both elective and non-elective procedures.

Elective procedures such as hernia repairs, gallbladder removals, and colon surgeries are commonly scheduled in advance, allowing surgeons to optimise their schedules and workload.

This control over their practice, combined with the ability to handle urgent and emergent cases, allows general surgeons to maximise their earning potential.

Gastroenterology

Gastroenterology deals with the diagnosis and treatment of disorders affecting the gastrointestinal (GI) tract, including the oesophagus, stomach, intestines, liver, and pancreas.

Gastrointestinal conditions, such as acid reflux, ulcers, inflammatory bowel disease, and liver diseases, are prevalent in the UK population.

The high demand for specialised GI care, coupled with the complexity of these conditions, allows gastroenterologists to charge higher fees for their expertise.

Moreover, gastroenterologists often perform various invasive and non-invasive procedures.

They conduct diagnostic tests like endoscopies, colonoscopies, and imaging studies to identify and evaluate GI conditions.

Additionally, they perform therapeutic procedures such as polyp removal, tumour ablation, and endoscopic interventions for liver and pancreatic disorders.

The technical expertise and specialised training required for these procedures contribute to the higher earning potential of gastroenterologists.

Factors Affecting Salaries

Aside from what actual area of medicine you work in, there are a few other important factors that can affect your salary as a doctor.

Level of Experience

Your earnings as a doctor are significantly influenced by your level of experience.

As you progress in your career and gain more expertise in your chosen specialty, you can expect your annual compensation to increase.

Typically, doctors in the early stages of their careers earn less than those who have established themselves in the field.

Location

The geographical location of your practice has a considerable impact on your earnings as a physician.

In some areas, local demand, costs of living, and reimbursement rates result in higher salaries.

For example, doctors working in London are generally paid a higher wage in order to offset the significantly increased cost of living in the capital.

Type of Practice

Your earnings can also be affected by the type of practice you’re engaged in.

For example, doctors working exclusively in private practice often have the potential to earn more than those employed in government institutions, academia, or the NHS.

Your earnings as a specialist could also be influenced by the demand for your services, the allied health professionals you work with, and the types of procedures you perform.

Strategies For Maximising Income

Lastly, I thought I’d discuss a few strategies for really maximising your income from a future career in medicine.

Subspecialisation

Subspecialising in a niche area within your field can significantly increase your earning potential.

Focusing on a specific aspect of your specialty can make you highly skilled and knowledgeable, resulting in higher demand for your expertise.

For example, as an orthopaedic surgeon, you could choose to subspecialise in hand surgery, sports medicine, or joint replacement surgery.

This additional expertise can pave the way for higher salaries and more lucrative opportunities.

Continuing Education

Pursuing ongoing professional development and continuing education is essential for maximising your income as a medical professional.

By staying up-to-date with the latest advancements in your specialty, you ensure that your skills remain relevant and in demand.

Consider attending conferences, seminars, and workshops within your field, as well as earning additional certifications or obtaining advanced degrees.

This not only keeps your knowledge current but also allows you to demonstrate your commitment to your profession.

Networking

In order to maximise your income, it’s crucial to network and build relationships within your field.

These connections can provide you with access to job opportunities, partnerships, and referral networks that lead to increased income and professional growth.

If you’re set on maximising your income, you’ll need to prioritise attending industry events and joining professional organisations to stay connected with your peers.

Final Thoughts

The field of medicine offers a diverse range of specialties, each with its unique earning potential.

From surgical disciplines like neurosurgery and orthopaedics to specialised areas like cardiology and dermatology, the highest earning specialties in medicine attract professionals with exceptional skills and expertise.

These specialists invest years of rigorous training and commitment to their craft, positioning themselves at the forefront of medical advancements and patient care.

Choosing a medical specialty is a personal decision, and if you’re an aspiring doctor I’d recommend you carefully consider your passion, aptitude, and long-term goals in order to pursue a rewarding (and likely financially lucrative) career in medicine.

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.