How Much Do Surgical Residents Make?

By Indeed Editorial Team

November 16, 2021

Surgical residents are doctors who have a medical degree but are still in training to become surgeons. Surgical residencies typically last five to eight years and include long hours and strenuous work. While surgical residents are paid, their salaries average only about a quarter of what a full surgeon can expect to make. In this article, we explore how much a surgical resident will typically earn, what duties are required during this part of the prospective surgeon's educational program, factors influencing their salary and their job outlook.

Related: Fellow vs. Resident: Definitions and Differences

What do surgical residents do?

A surgical resident is a doctor who has completed medical school and is in training for a surgical specialty. Surgical residencies take a minimum of five years to complete and may last longer. In the first year of training, these doctors are referred to as interns. From their second year onward, they are deemed surgical residents. These residents work under the supervision of an attending surgeon.

Surgical residents rotate through different services such as pediatric surgery, vascular surgery, general surgery or transplant surgery, typically spending a month or two in each area. The exact schedule for the surgical residency rotation varies by location.

Surgical residents can handle a number of tasks, which may include:

  • Preparing patients for surgery

  • Completing physical examinations

  • Taking patients' medical histories

  • Assisting in surgical operations

Related: FAQ: How Long Does It Take To Become a Resident Surgeon?

As they're still learning and perfecting their skills, surgical residents frequently practice procedures in a skills lab. This helps them prepare for live operations so they can provide the best possible care to patients.

Surgical residents also handle a great deal of nonmedical work, often referred to as "scut work." These jobs can be completed by those without a medical degree, but in a busy and often fast-paced medical environment, others are often unavailable for these jobs. Some of the scut work that a surgical resident may do includes:

  • Drawing stat labs

  • Talking to patients and their families

  • Accompanying patients to test procedures

  • Putting in nurses' orders

  • Obtaining signatures on medical consent forms

  • Making rounds with social workers to discuss placement upon discharge

Surgical residents typically fall into one of three categories:

  • Junior residents

  • Senior residents

  • Chief residents

As surgical residents gain more experience, they also gain additional responsibilities. A chief resident is in their last year of training, completing the final preparations to practice on their own. By the end of the residency, a surgeon has often performed hundreds of operations. Chief residents have greater decision-making authority and may help guide other residents.

Read more: Learn About Being a Surgeon

How much do surgical residents earn?

Surgical residents make slightly more than the average for all medical residents. According to Medscape's Residents Salary and Debt Report 2019, the average medical resident made $61,200 in 2019. This is an increase from previous years. Residents averaged $57,200 in 2017 and $59,300 in 2018, showing a steady rise in resident pay.

Earnings vary by specialty. Orthopedic surgery residents average $60,700 a year, general surgery residents make $61,000 a year, residents in plastic surgery and aesthetic medicine make $65,600, and specialized surgery residents have an average annual salary of $65,700.

In addition to their salaries, residents also receive benefits from many employers. Eighty-nine percent report that they have health insurance and 87% indicate that they get paid time off. Some other perks reported by medical residents are:

  • Travel allowance: 66%

  • Meal allowance: 61%

  • Book allowance: 53%

  • Exam and licensing fees: 32%

  • Commuter assistance: 25%

  • Housing allowance: 8%

  • Childcare: 3%

Read more: How to Choose a Specialty in Medicine

Factors that can affect surgical resident salary

Location and experience are the primary factors impacting a surgical resident's salary. Surgical residents typically earn more with each level they attain. Thus, a junior resident will earn less than a chief resident.

According to the MedScape report, the average resident's salary by year was:

  • Year 1: $55,200

  • Year 2: $57,100

  • Year 3: $60,100

  • Year 4: $62,400

  • Year 5: $65,200

  • Year 6: $67,800

Many schools report their compensation packages to inform prospective residents and attract the most talented candidates with competitive salaries. Here are some medical schools and their reported compensation data:

UC San Diego School of Medicine

General surgery residency, annual salary

  • Resident physician 1: $57,233

  • Resident physician 2: $59,130

  • Resident physician 3: $61,453

  • Resident physician 4: $63,879

  • Resident physician 5: $66,493

  • Resident physician 6: $68,964

  • Resident physician 7: $71,257

  • Resident physician 8: $75,008

Additional benefits:

  • Educational and housing stipend: $4,800

  • All Medical Board licensing fees and USMLE Step III application fees

  • Four weeks of paid vacation per year

  • Additional leave for illness, family medical emergencies and maternity/paternity

  • Health insurance including dental and vision

  • $40,000 life insurance plan

  • Two embroidered lab coats yearly and free laundry service

  • On-call meals based on the number of on-call nights

Related: How Much Do Medical Residents Make? (Plus Other FAQs)

Emory University School of Medicine, Department of Surgery

Annual salary July 1, 2019 - June 30, 2020

  • Postgraduate year (PGY) 1: $59,399

  • PGY 2: $62,850

  • PGY 3: $64,901

  • PGY 4: $67,456

  • PGY 5: $70,539

  • PGY 6: $71,834

  • PGY 7: $73,071

  • PGY 8: $74,978

  • PGY 9: $77,155

  • PGY 10: $79,265

Additional benefits at no cost:

  • Single medical coverage

  • Life insurance

  • Long-term disability insurance

  • Accidental death insurance

  • Parking privileges at Emory University facilities

Keck School of Medicine USC

Medical resident annual salaries

  • PGY 1: $55,444.66

  • PGY 2: $60,222.81

  • PGY 3: $65,252.25

  • PGY 4: $70,316.57

  • PGY 5: $75,244.51

Additional benefits:

  • Basic group health, dental and life insurance at no cost

  • Meal allowance

  • Free parking

  • Two white coats and free laundry service

A surgical resident's salary varies by location in association with the average cost of living in that area. In cities with a high cost of living, such as Boston, Miami or Los Angeles, surgical residents earn considerably more than they might in a city with a low cost of living like Omaha, Memphis or Kansas City. Earning higher wages in certain cities helps ensure that residents can have a comfortable quality of life relative to the cost of living in the city where they train.

Read more: FAQ: What Is a Surgeon's Schedule Like?

Surgical resident job outlook

Physicians and surgeons enjoy a favorable job outlook. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment for these positions is expected to increase by 7% over the 2018 to 2028 decade, which is faster than the average for all occupations. However, this field will not see as much growth as that of health diagnosing and treating practitioners where growth is anticipated at 13% over the same decade.

Salary for surgical residents post-residency depends largely upon their specialty. Over 90% of residents indicate that their potential salary has an impact on their choice of specialty. This is true of 88% of women and 96% of men. Some average salaries to consider as you're thinking about your specialty and earnings outlook include:

  • Orthopedists: $231,881 a year, with salaries ranging from $76,000 to $470,000.

  • Plastic surgeons: $240,469 a year, with salaries ranging from $94,000 to $452,000.

  • Vascular surgeons: $250,852 a year, with salaries ranging from $79,000 to $517,000.

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