The average general surgeon salary grew by 2% in 2022, according to Medscape’s 2023 General Surgeon Compensation Report. This represents slower growth than in recent years — in 2021, general surgeons' average compensation rose about 8% year over year. Despite frustrations with documentation, regulations, and long hours, general surgeons remain happy at work. Their overall job satisfaction is attributed largely to confidence in their expertise and the gratification of helping their patients. Let’s look closer at how general surgeon salaries have changed in the past year.
Average general surgeon salary in 2023
As of 2023, the average general surgeon salary was the 11th highest among the specialties surveyed, with an average annual income of $412,000. This is a $10,000 pay increase from 2022’s average of $402,000. On average, the compensation of general surgeons rose about 2% year over year compared to the prior year’s report.
COVID is affecting surgeons’ incomes less
Despite average overall salary increases, this outcome wasn't the case among all general surgeons. Of those practitioners who did not see their salary increase, 69% cite factors unrelated to the pandemic as consequential to their earnings.
This is remarkable considering the prior year’s report, in which 77% of respondents noted the COVID-19 pandemic — and its related job losses, reductions in hours, and reductions in patient volume — as a key driver in salary decline.
In contrast, as of the 2023 report, only half as many (38%) general surgeons cited COVID-19 as the primary cause of salary decreases.
Incentive bonuses for general surgeons have increased
The average incentive bonus for general surgeons was $75,000 in 2023, up from $46,000 the year prior.
A bonus hike of nearly 39% indicates a strong desire to foster goodwill with general surgeons and, perhaps most importantly, retain talent. That said, many general surgeons noted in their survey responses that they now work harder and longer in order to earn their incentive bonus.
This incentive bonus average is on the high end of the spectrum across specialties, trailing only orthopedics ($134,000), cardiology ($88,000), and radiology ($80,000).
The gender pay gap is shrinking for physicians
While Medscape doesn’t supply specific data comparing the compensation of male versus female general surgeons, it does provide a picture of the income disparity among physicians overall.
Even in 2023, female doctors are trailing their male counterparts by earning an average of 19% less, $300,000 compared to $386,000. On the bright side, despite the still-significant disparity, this is the lowest gap the survey group has seen in five years.
General surgeons are taking on extra work more often
Almost four in 10 (38%) general surgeons take on extra work to supplement their income, up from only 31% in last year’s survey report.
Of those who pursue side hustles, the majority of gigs are medical related, such as moonlighting, which includes locum tenens. Only 8% of survey respondents earning supplemental income cite pursuing non-medical-related work. Additionally, 6% of respondents reported adding more hours to their primary physician job as a means of supplementing their income.
Dr. Blaine Cashmore, a general surgeon in Utah, pursues locum tenens work in nearby areas to mix up his everyday workload — and earn additional income along the way.
“It’s enjoyable to see how things are done at other places, to meet new people, and kind of see whether the grass is greener on the other side without having to extend yourself to something like actually looking for another job,” he says.
“As far as the money part, I always look at it as, if I do this for this weekend then we can splurge on something we hadn’t planned on doing and not say, ‘Well, should we really be doing this? Is it worth the money?’”
The financial flexibility and opportunity to explore neighboring towns is a worthwhile pursuit for Dr. Cashmore and his family, including three children.
Half of general surgeons feel fairly compensated
Just over half (52%) of the general surgeons surveyed believe they are fairly compensated. They fall in the middle of all specialties in terms of how often they feel fairly paid — an improvement from last year's report, where they sat in the bottom third.
Despite 48% of general surgeons desiring more pay, 79% would choose the same specialty again if they were given the chance — a slight decrease from 2022, when 83% of general surgeon respondents said that they would choose their specialty again.
Time spent on paperwork and administration has increased
The time that general physicians spent on paperwork and administration in 2022 rose slightly, to 15 hours per week on average. In the year prior, surgeons reported spending 14.7 hours per week on documentation and administrative tasks.
This is only slightly below the average across all surveyed physicians, 15.5 hours per week, but well below the higher end of the scale. Physical medicine and rehabilitation doctors report spending nearly 18.5 hours weekly on managing electronic health records and other clerical tasks.
Excessive regulations are general surgeons’ biggest challenge
Like all physicians, general surgeons experience some frustrations on the job. Having to manage excessive rules and regulations frustrated 23% of respondents in 2022, edging out difficulties related to having to work long hours and worrying about being sued as the chief concern.
Working on electronic health records and difficulties in getting fair reimbursements from insurers, including Medicare, round out the top five parts of the job cited as most challenging.
On the upside, difficulties related to getting fair reimbursement from insurers have declined since the prior year’s report, when 19% of general surgeon respondents noted the task as particularly challenging.
What general surgeons find most rewarding about their jobs
Despite the frustrations, general surgeons still find a lot to love about their jobs. High satisfaction is derived from the sense of being very good at their jobs — nearly one-third of respondents (31%) enjoy finding answers and making diagnoses.
Patients can be challenging at times, but the gratitude received and relationships built are a net positive for general surgeons. Twenty-four percent of survey respondents find these relationships to be rewarding overall.
Dr. Cashmore has gleaned a lot of personal satisfaction as a locum from serving patients in rural areas that don’t always have general surgeons on staff.
“The people often come in with pretty simple problems, like appendicitis or gallbladder disease, and they would have had to put them in an ambulance and send them a couple of hours away,” he says. “The patients are certainly grateful that they didn’t have to inconvenience themselves and cost more money and travel long distances.”
Knowing they are making the world a better place by helping others and making good money at a job they like are other frequent joys general surgeons find through their work.
Do you want to increase your general surgeon salary? Give us a call at 800.453.3030 to learn more or view today's locum tenens general surgeon job opportunities.