Physician Staffing Blog

Career Insights

Setting Goals for Your Physician Career

November 22, 2021

Setting physician career goals

By the Merritt Hawkins team

Medical students spend years thinking about their future career as a physician, investigating different specialties and potential salaries, and getting familiar with different working environments. But after graduating from medical school and completing residency, they may get that first physician job and then settle in to their daily work. Sometimes for years.

But eventually they need to reevaluate.

Even if you’ve held several positions, it’s good to be proactive and continually check if you are heading in the right direction. Goal setting for your physician career will depend on your career stage, and require some self-reflection and research. As a new year is upon us, there’s no time like the present to take stock and plan your next steps.

Questions to ask yourself

Before setting goals and creating a plan for your physician career, take the time to reflect and ask yourself some questions:

  • Am I satisfied with my current practice?
  • What would I like to see changed?
  • What is my main motivation in making future career choices?
  • Do I have a plan for the immediate future?
  • Where would I like to be a few years down the road?

Creating both short-term and long-term goals is recommended to keep you focused and on the path to career satisfaction. Understanding your key motivators is also recommended before you contact a physician recruiter, who can help answer questions and provide additional guidance in your career plans.

What to know about the physician job market

In order to understand current supply and demand for physicians in your specialty, you’ll need a good picture of what is going on in the marketplace, including real-world data of what physicians are being offered.

One of the best tools to consult is Merritt Hawkins’ 2021 Review of Recruiting Incentives for Physicians and Advanced Practitioners. Now in its 28th year, this annual review tracks the salaries, bonuses and other incentives offered to physicians in a variety of specialties over this past year, with comparisons to previous years. It has become a benchmark used by job candidates and healthcare facilities to determine which incentives are customary and competitive. It also outlines a number of trends in the physician job market.

The data is based on physician placements across the healthcare spectrum: hospitals (33 percent); medical groups (29 percent); academia (20 percent); community and federal health centers, including CHC/FQHC/IHS (8 percent); solo practices, partnerships and concierge practices (3 percent); and other settings, including urgent care, HMO, association, home health, etc. (7 percent).

Tracking physician salaries

So, how much could you expect to earn if you decide to seek a new physician job? Salary offers can vary significantly depending on medical specialty, location, facility need and the experience level of the candidate, but knowing average physician salaries can provide a starting point for consideration.

The following data shows the average salaries of some of the most in demand specialties across the United States, based on physician recruitment assignments from April 1, 2020 to March 31, 2021.

Physician SpecialtyAverage Starting Salary*
Interventional Cardiology $641,000
Orthopedic Surgery $546,000
Gastroenterology $453,000
Cardiology (non-invasive) $446,000
Radiology $401,000
Hematology/Oncology $385,000
Pulmonology $385,000
Dermatology $378,000
Anesthesiology $367,000
Oral/Maxillofacial Surgery $349,000
Neurology $332,000
Obstetrics/Gynecology $291,000
Psychiatry $279,000
Internal Medicine $244,000
Family Medicine $243,000
Endocrinology $241,000
Pediatrics $236,000

*Note that these amounts are only starting salaries. In addition, many physician employment offers include bonuses, educational payments, loan forgiveness, relocation allowances, etc. For further details, including the low-to-high salary ranges and other incentives, download the 2021 Review.

How to know it’s time to look for a new role

Of course, money is just one factor when it comes to choosing a new career opportunity. Here are some of the top reasons physicians decide to make a change:

You desire greater compensation or a new opportunity. If you’ve decided it is time to start making more money or gain some additional experience for your ultimate goal, this would be a good time to get some professional career advice. Don’t already have a physician mentor? Seek out one in your chosen specialty. Then do more research on the job market and talk to a physician recruiter, who can help you take those next steps.

You need a change in practice location. Where you live and work is a key factor in your overall career satisfaction, and a change in location may be indicated due to family needs, personal preferences or a more robust physician job market in different regions of the country.

You are stressed and no longer find joy in your current practice. Are you calling in sick a lot, or simply dread going to work? Is your health suffering? Is management not addressing your concerns? Physician burnout is a longstanding problem, but has become even more common during the COVID-19 pandemic. If you don’t expect things to improve at your current workplace, your mental and physical health may require a job change and a fresh start.

Work schedule and quality of life factors are more important. Physicians are known for working long hours in often harrowing situations, but no one can do that forever. Whether you are in early, mid or late career, a change in your work schedule and responsibilities could be life-changing. If spending more time with family, getting your weekends off, or simply having the flexibility to take more breaks and travel appeal to you, it may be time to review some new career options.


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Merritt Hawkins is the leading physician recruitment firm in the U.S. Have questions about your physician career and the current job market? We have answers.


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