The Average Medical Doctor Salary in Canada

Kristen Campbell
April 24, 2020

Making the decision to go to medical school doesn’t come lightly. You need a great deal of passion for the medical field, the right amount of hard work, and a drive to be the greatest doctor you can be. That being said, just like any career, your future earning potential should be part of your decision – especially if you have a fair amount of student loans. The salary of a medical doctor in Canada depends on which province you live in, what your specialization is, and how many years you spend in school. What is a doctor’s average salary? There are a lot of factors that impact this. Here are a few of them:

 

1. Number of Patients

The average doctor salary in Canada comes from many sources. The main one is a fee for service model that allows physicians to bill the government for each patient they see. They charge a rate per service  and submit the claim to the government for compensation. Under this model, the average doctor salary will depend on how many patients they are able to see in a day, what service they’re providing and the province they operate in. According to the Canadian Institute for Health Information, 97% of physicians work under a fee-for-service model. The other payment models are alternative payment plans (which usually include some fee-for-service tasks), or salaries.

Under the fee for services model, a doctor’s salary in Canada per hour will differ based on the province where they work, the number of patients they see per hour, and the amount they can bill for each patient. According to the CIHI, the average cost per service was $47 for a family physician, $82 for a medical specialist, and $89 for a surgical specialist. Family physicians see more patients per day, but specialists can bill a higher rate per patient, so a doctor’s yearly salary will depend on both how many patients they can see, how many hours they work, and how much they can charge for each service.

 

2. Specialization

Just like your specialization will determine the rate you charge per visit, the average annual salary for a doctor in Canada will depend on your specialization. As of 2018, the average annual salary for a doctor in Canada was $281,000 for family doctors, $360,000 for a medical specialist, and $481,000 for a surgical specialist. Doctor salary in Canada ranges from $278,000 for psychiatrists and over $769,000 for ophthalmologists.

More highly specialized medical fields will demand higher salaries, but also might come with longer hours. Make sure to balance the decision about how much you hope to earn with the other factors that would influence your choice of specialization. Keep in mind that there are other factors that influence a doctor’s yearly salary within specialization – higher paying specializations often require more years of schooling, more hours, or a more stressful working environment. Some specializations may earn more in terms of doctor career salary, while earning less per hour than others.

 

3. Location

A doctor’s career salary will likely depend on the location that they choose to practice. While all provinces and territories use the fee for service model, there is some variability in what you are allowed to charge in each province. Even location premiums depend on your level of specialization – more highly specialized physicians will earn a higher salary and have less variation across the different provinces. Family physicians earn an average doctor salary of $217k per year in BC and $309k in Ontario. Medical specialists in BC earn $329k per year versus $341k in Ontario, while surgical specialists earn $466k in BC versus $483k in Ontario.

In addition, there are certain remote areas and underserved communities where the government will incentivize doctors to work. These programs provide student loan relief and bursaries to doctors who are interested in working in approved underserved or rural areas across Canada. Doctors who are fresh from medical school should consider working in these programs to increase their annual salary and get out of debt after medical school.

 

4. Whether you Receive Alternative Payment Methods

Depending on your specialization, you may be able to earn more for your services outside the fee for service model. These alternative methods include salaries, sessional and hourly rates, capitation models and contract work. These contracts allow physicians to earn more money through other means than just seeing patients. These other models of payment apply mainly to family doctors – 34% of family doctors earned more than half of their total clinical payments through alternative payment methods, versus 17% of medical specialists and only 8% of surgical specialists.

Alternative payment methods could look different for every doctor, but are often used to give doctors who live in areas with fewer patients a more consistent income. They also provide more reasonable compensation for time consuming patient protocols or procedures.

 

5. Whether You Have Your Own Practice

Doctor salary in Canada can also be impacted by their choice of work environment. Working in a hospital or for a larger medical institution can mean a lower average annual salary for a doctor, since doctors with their own medical practice are free to pay themselves a salary or another form of compensation as income from the practice.  Doctors with their own medical practice also report being happier and having a better work life balance than working in a hospital environment.

If you’re considering opening your own private practice, keep in mind that you will be financially responsible for the overhead and monthly fixed costs in addition to your student loan payments – so if you’re considering this as an option, it’s a good idea to make sure you’re financially stable. At least for the first few years, you will likely be taking on loans to finance your practice, and you don’t want to leave yourself overextended.

 

6. Whether You Do Research or Teach

Your research interests can also impact the amount of salary you could earn. Through working with a university or a research institute, some doctors can earn a higher salary for themselves by teaching, researching, and planning and organizing conferences. Physicians can add to their doctor salary through an academic salary as a researcher, or teacher which could earn you an additional salary per year. This can come through full time university research or teaching positions held on a sessional or contract basis.

Other ways physicians can earn money through their research a
re through grants, such as the ones through the Medical Council of Canada, fellowships, or research stipends. How much you can earn through academic means really depends on how much you want a clinical career versus an academic one. The ivory tower might not be for everyone, but if you enjoyed research in school or are heavily invested in your area of study, it’s not a bad idea to look into adding this to your doctor career salary.

 

Medical doctors in Canada are fortunate to have one of the most flexible careers for making money. In addition to the fee for service model that makes up most doctors’ income, there are plenty of creative ways to make more per year. The salary of a medical doctor in Canada can differ based on where you live, how many patients you see, and what you studied in school – so medical students choosing a specialization should do their research well in advance of picking their major.

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