You may think plastic surgery is a relatively new practice, but it actually dates back to 600 B.C. India — at least the nose job does. According to ancient Sanskrit texts, a surgeon would cut skin from the cheek or forehead and stitch it in place of your schnoz. When healed, if the nose was too long or too short, he’d cut it down the middle and try to enlarge or shorten it. Not the most reassuring method, but plastic surgery has made leaps and bounds since then. Today's cosmetic surgeons spend four years in undergrad, five to seven in residency, and another year if a subspecialty, like pediatric, burn or hand, is chosen. Reason enough why plastic surgeons top the list of highest-paid professionals in the country.
In 2011, the average salary for all surgeons and physicians was $184,650 a year, reports the Bureau of Labor Statistics. But extremely high or low salaries can skew the average, and median wage is usually a better indication of earning potential. Half of all surgeons earn $187,000 or more a year. Yet neither figure differentiates the salaries of one specialty from another. A plastic surgeon is paid a much different scale than a general surgeon, for example.
Plastic Surgery Salaries
A survey conducted by Medscape, a medical educational website, found that plastic surgeons earn anywhere from $155,000 to almost $450,000 a year, as of 2012. To get a better idea of where this salary range stands, take a look at other medical specialties. Orthopedic surgeons, for instance, can earn $300,000 to $700,000 a year — probably the most lucrative branch of medicine. Physicians in emergency medicine, on the other hand, earn between $160,000 and $380,000 a year.
Where a plastic surgeon sets up shop can affect earnings exponentially. Of all settings, multispecialty — also known as a "group practice," with a variety of physicians each specializing in a procedure or discipline — is by far the most profitable. As of 2012, a plastic surgeon in a multispecialty practice averages $445,000 a year, according to Medscape. Those in a healthcare organization earn the next highest salary, averaging $285,000 a year. Plastic surgeons at single-specialty offices earn $284,000 a year, while those at a sole practice earn $280,000 a year. A plastic surgeon at a hospital, on the other hand, earns the least, with an average salary of just $155,000 a year.
While plastic surgeons generally perform the exact same procedures, such as breast augmentation, liposuction, tummy tucks and, thankfully, modern-day nose jobs, their gender significantly affects their earnings. Women in this specialty make 55 percent less than men. A female plastic surgeon earns an average of $187,000 a year, according to the Medscape survey. A male, on the other hand, averages $290,000 a year — an astounding $103,000 more just for being born a boy.
- Bureau of Labor Statistics: Physicians and Surgeons
- Bureau of Labor Statistics: Occupational Outlook Handbook – Physicians and Surgeons
- Association of American Medical Colleges: Plastic Surgery
- Medscape News: Plastic Surgeon Compensation Report 2012
- Internet Scientific Publications: Sushruta -The first Plastic Surgeon in 600 B.C.
- Merritt Hawkins 2011 Review of Physician Recruiting Incentives
Based in Minneapolis, Minn., Dana Severson has been writing marketing materials for small-to-mid-sized businesses since 2005. Prior to this, Severson worked as a manager of business development for a marketing company, developing targeted marketing campaigns for Big G, Betty Crocker and Pillsbury, among others.