5 Jobs That Can Make More Money Than Doctors

A doctor holds a stethoscope on September 5, 2012 in Berlin, Germany. Doctors in the country are demanding higher payments from health insurance companies (Krankenkassen). Over 20 doctors' associations are expected to hold a vote this week over possible strikes and temporary closings of their practices if assurances that a requested additional annual increase of 3.5 billion euros (4,390,475,550 USD) in payments are not provided. The Kassenaerztlichen Bundesvereinigung (KBV), the National Association of Statutory Health Insurance Physicians, unexpectedly broke off talks with the health insurance companies on Monday. (Photo by Adam Berry/Getty Images)
Doctors make a lot, but these professions can earn more money | Adam Berry/Getty Images

Each year, the Bureau of Labor Statistics releases the May National Occupational Employment and Wage Estimates. The data tell us average and median salaries, as well as salary ranges, employment projections, and skill and education requirements for various career paths.

One interesting piece of information the BLS publishes is its highest-paying jobs list, which indicates the jobs in the U.S. that earn the highest median annual salaries. Here are the top 10 from the most recent list:

  1. Oral and maxillofacial surgeons
  2. Physicians and surgeons (all other)
  3. Surgeons
  4. OB/GYNs
  5. General internists
  6. Anesthesiologists
  7. Orthodontists
  8. Psychiatrists
  9. Family and general practitioners
  10. Prosthodontists

Notice how every single position is a type of doctor or medical practitioner. Because doctors are among the most respected professions and most of these highest-paying jobs lists are flooded with members of the medical profession, people often ask the question: “Does any career path allow you to earn more than a doctor?”

The answer to that question is “yes” (well, sort of). Although doctors earn the highest median annual salaries, they have incredibly high investment and opportunity costs — they give up around half a million dollars to become doctors. We also have to consider the fact that all workers within a specific occupation are not created equally. Some doctors earn more or less than others, and the same goes for workers in other occupations.

NerdWallet discussed a doctor’s investment costs in a report a while back, finding that in 2012, 79% of medical school graduates reported education debt of more than $100,000; the average medical school debt was $166,750. If that average debt takes 30 years to pay back, we’re talking about at least a $350,000 repayment (at 6% interest, payments of around $1,000 per month, and no missed payments).

Plus, when you add in at least four or five years of missed salaries of around $57,000 per year (the median earnings for someone with a bachelor’s degree), this means a doctor gives up at least another $228,000 worth of after-college salaries to complete additional, post-graduate training. Between loans and missed salaries, a doctor’s investment costs add up to around $578,000, or around $20,000 per year for 30 years. And this is a conservative estimate.

When all is said and done, a general practitioner — who earns a median salary of $176,530 — ends up earning around $156,530 if that person earns the median. General practitioners in the 10th percentile earn only $76,560.

We’ve found jobs that can earn more than that $156,530 amount if they are on the higher end of the wage scale, in the 75th or 90th percentile. Higher-earning workers in each of these jobs may end up with a bigger pot than a doctor when all is said and done.

1. Sales managers and sales people (real estate, pharmaceuticals, etc.)

work, office setting
Salesman at work | Source: iStock
  • Median salary$108,540 for sales managers, but salaries for sales workers vary dramatically based on the product or service they sell, their sales skills, their location, and their commission structure.
  • Average salary: $123,150 (for sales managers)
  • 75th percentile: $155,090 (for sales managers)
  • 90th percentile: More than $187,199 (for sales managers)
  • Investment costs: Sales managers need a bachelor’s degree to be qualified for their positions. With the average student loan debt at $25,250, as of 2012, a borrower will end up repaying around $1,800 per year in student loans. Some sales people can obtain their positions with only a high school diploma or its equivalent, therefore requiring little or no investment costs.

2. Air traffic controllers

airplane on runway
Airplane | MOHD RASFAN/AFP/Getty Images
  • Median salary$121,280
  • Average salary: $118,650
  • 75th percentile: $150,820
  • 90th percentile: $170,760
  • Investment costs: The minimum education requirement for an air traffic controller is an associate’s-level degree, but many air traffic controllers earn bachelor’s degrees. These programs can cost as little as $9,000 or as much as $42,000. Workers also complete long-term, on-the-job training.

3. Architectural and engineering managers

engineer, construction worker
Building engineer | Source: iStock
  • Median salary: $128,170
  • Average salary: $136,540
  • 75th percentile: $159,830
  • 90th percentile: More than $187,199
  • Investment costs: Architectural and engineering managers need at least a bachelor’s degree to be qualified for their positions. With the average student loan debt at $25,250, as of 2012, a borrower will end up repaying around $1,800 per year in student loans.

4. Petroleum engineers

oil rig
Oil rig | Source: iStock
  • Median salary$132,320
  • Average salary: $149,180
  • 75th percentile: $186,520
  • 90th percentile: More than $187,199
  • Investment costs: Petroleum engineers need at least a bachelor’s degree to qualify for their positions. With the average student loan debt at $25,250, as of 2012, an engineer who borrows will end up repaying around $1,800 per year in student loans.

5. CEOs

Mark Zuckerberg
Mark Zuckerberg | Justin Sullivan/Getty Images
  • Median salary$171,610, but salary varies depending on the size of the business, as well as its financial success.
  • Average salary: $178,400
  • 75th percentile: More than $187,199
  • 90th percentile: More than $187,199
  • Investment costs: There are several paths a worker takes to obtain this position. Sometimes, an entrepreneur opens a business and then appoints him or herself as the CEO. Other times, someone will work for an existing company and work his or her way up to this position. Therefore, investment costs can vary substantially. Most CEOs have at least a bachelor’s degree, which involves a repayment of around $1,800 (based on the average) if the worker took on loans while in college.

The lesson? The medical profession is not the only career path a worker can take to get to that “highest-earning” level. If you’re good at what you do and you continue to work at it, you can feasibly work your way up to earning what a doctor makes.