by Joe Jamieson

what are the HIGHEST-PAID medical jobs?

NHS salaries are banded, so it's a pretty clear-cut answer.

Yes, there are variables — like where you’re located and your seniority.

But by and large, it’s easy to tell what your basic pay will be, whether you’re a junior doctor or a consultant.

Surgical team in Kathmandu

— Surgeons rank at the top of the payscale —

If you’re working as a speciality doctor you earn a basic salary of between £40,037 and £74,661. And salaried GPs get between £58,808 and £88,744.

And as a consultant, your basic pay is between £79,860 and £107,668.

In 2018, the average full-time consultant earned about £127k, so there’s a bit of flexibility in the numbers above (you can choose to take on extra work in management or teaching and that will give you a pay bump).

Note: Some NHS doctors boost their earnings with private work, but here we’re focusing on basic pay.

The top five highest paid specialities in the UK are:

  • Plastic surgery
  • Trauma and orthopaedic surgery
  • Neurosurgery
  • Otolaryngology
  • Cardiology

But even up here at the top of the ladder, we’re still talking about small differences in pay between each.

Let’s take a step back to look at a bigger, more global picture.

The bigger picture


— There's a whole other story in the States —

How much more do doctors in America get paid?

A lot more.

Put it this way —

If you’re an orthopaedic doctor in the UK, you’re looking at an average of £87,757 a year. So over your career, you’ll earn about £3,520,000.

If you’re an orthopedic doctor in America, you’re earning the equivalent of around £370,000 per year. Over a career, that’s about £14,000,000.

So an American orthopedic doctor earns, on average, an eye-watering £10.5 million more over a career than their British equivalent.

That’s quadruple the lifetime earnings of an equally well-qualified British doctor.

we’re not being entirely fair

A medical degree costs a lot more in America than it does in the UK. There are lots of estimates online, but the average debt of the American medical student is around $200,000 upon graduation.


— US Medical degrees cost a fortune —

Let’s be incredibly generous and say that the average med school debt is $500,000 — more than double most estimates.

Even taking that into consideration, you’d still be earning £10 million more than your UK equivalent.

Let that sink in.

Why is there such a big difference in pay?

It’s not news that the American healthcare system is private from top to bottom.

Services aren't free at the point of care and patients have to pay for treatment before they receive it.

Healthcare costs patients a fortune as a result — the average cost of a bypass in the UK is about £20,000. In the US it’s £60,000+.


— Healthcare isn't cheap in the States —

To cover the costs, lots of people in the US opt for health insurance.

There are still hundreds of thousands of people in the States who remain uninsured for one reason or another, but let’s not wade into the political debate.

The point is that the more money there is in the system, the more money there is for doctors to make. And the more money can be invested back into the system, which improves the quality of care.

or does it?

Apparently not.

Studies show that the NHS doesn't just perform better than the US healthcare system, it's actually among the best in the world.

And that’s with the NHS spending half of what the US system spends per person.

Here’s a graph from the study above —


    How does this make sense?

    The National Health Service is all about people. It has been about people since it treated Sylvia Diggory — its first ever patient — in 1948.

    It’s run by people for people and it’s publicly funded.

    And because of that, people are invested in the NHS as a public institution. Any time someone mentions privatisation, the people strongly oppose it.

    The NHS is the 5th largest employer on the planet. It employs 1.7 million people. To put that into context, the other four employers in the top five are:

    • US Department of Defence
    • People's Liberation Army (China)
    • Walmart
    • McDonalds

    The NHS works as well as it does because the people who run it believe in it.

    Being an NHS doctor is about committing yourself to serving patients. You won’t get paid as much as your American colleagues, but you will be part of one of the UK's greatest collective achievements.

    Next up:

    Overseas Electives

    Learn how you can get eye-opening medical experience while travelling Africa & Asia.

    What is the typical cost of a Work the World medical elective?

    Registration for all destinations is £300. Prices then vary depending on how long you want to go for and where you want to travel to. Our minimum placement duration is one week with no upper limit. On average electives are normally between 4 - 6 weeks.

    What are the benefits of medical electives from Work the World?

    The benefits of our medical electives include:

    • Expanding your clinical knowledge and skill set
    • Becoming more confident, independent and resourceful
    • Making yourself more attractive to employers
    • Doing some proper travelling
    • Building your personal and professional network
    • Sharpening your language and communication skills
    • Renewing your perspective on the NHS

    How long is a typical Work the World medical elective?

    A medical elective is as long as you want it to be. Our minimum placement duration is one week, but medical students typically travel on their medical electives for 4 - 6 weeks. There is no upper limit to how long you can travel for.

    Search blog posts