Executive paychecks might grab the most headlines, but it's top-tier medical professionals who are bringing in the biggest salaries, according to the most recent Occupational Employment Statistics survey conducted by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Leading the list once again is anesthesiologist, with an average annual salary of $235,070. The most technical of all anesthesia-related positions, anesthesiologists "are primarily responsible for the safety and well-being of patients before, during and after surgery," according to the American Society of Anesthesiologists (ASA).
"This may include placing them in the state of controlled unconsciousness called 'general anesthesia,' the provision of 'regional anesthetics' where only a portion of the body is made numb, or administering sedation when indicated for the relief of pain or anxiety."
Data from the ASA indicates that more than 40 million anesthetics are administered every year in the U.S., with anesthesiologists participating in roughly 90% of those procedures. (With 30,200 such professionals currently practicing across the country, that's about 1,325 anesthetics per anesthesiologist, per year.)
General and specialized physicians dominate the remainder of the 10 best-paying jobs in the country, with surgeons, oral and maxillofacial surgeons, OB/GYNs, and orthodontists rounding out the top 5 with salaries that approach or exceed $200,000.
Further down the list, internists, family and general practitioners, and psychiatrists continue the trend. According to the BLS, healthcare industry expansion means that employment for physicians and surgeons is expected to grow nearly 20% between 2012 and 2022--faster than the average for all occupations.
The lone representative of the corporate org. chart that makes the list is chief executive, coming in at number 10 with an average annual salary of $178,400.
While the relative absence of the C-suite in the top 10 best-paying jobs might raise a few eyebrows, the occupations at the other end of the spectrum pack fewer surprises. The worst-paying job in America is fast food cook, a job that pays an average of $9.07 hourly, or $18,870 for those employed full-time, year-round.
In fact, restaurant and food-service industry jobs occupy the majority of rungs at the lowest end of the wage ladder, with various positions in food preparation, dish washing, and counter and cafeteria service all paying at or below about $20,000 annually.
Shampooers also bring in some of the lowest wages, at an average $9.09 per hour, or $18,910 annually, as do theater ushers, amusement park attendants, and farmworkers.
Perhaps more significant than the difference between wages at the top and bottom of the compensation spectrum is how many more people hold low-wage jobs than high-wage jobs.
According to the BLS, "Most of the largest occupations were relatively low paying. Of the 10 largest occupations, only registered nurses, with an annual mean wage of $68,910, had an average wage above the U.S. all-occupations mean of $22.33 per hour or $46,440 annually. Annual mean wages for the rest of the 10 largest occupations ranged from $18,880 for combined food preparation and serving workers to $34,000 for secretaries and administrative assistants, except legal, medical, and executive."
The Best-Paying Jobs In America
No. 1 Best-Paying Job: Anesthesiologist
Annual mean wages: $235,070
Employees in the field: 30,200
No. 2 Best-Paying Job: Surgeon
Annual mean wages: $233,150
Employees in the field: 41,030
No. 3 Best-Paying Job: Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeons
Annual mean wages: $218,960
Employees in the field: 5,280
No. 4 Best-Paying Job: Obstetrician and Gynecologist
Annual mean wages: $212,570
Employees in the field: 21,730
No. 5 Best-Paying Job: Orthodontist
Annual mean wages: $196,270
Employees in the field: 5,570
The Worst-Paying Jobs In America
No. 1 Worst-Paying Job: Fast Food Cook
Mean hourly wages: $9.07
Mean annual wages: $18,870
Employees in the field: 507,940
No. 2 Worst-Paying Job: Combined Food Preparation and Serving Worker, Including Fast Food
Mean hourly wages: $9.08
Mean annual wages: $18,880
Employees in the field: 3,022,880
No. 3 Worst-Paying Job: Shampooer
Mean hourly wages: $9.09
Mean annual wages: $18,910
Employees in the field: 15,650
No. 4 Worst-Paying Job: Dishwasher
Mean hourly wages: $9.22
Mean annual wages: $19,180
Employees in the field: 498,110
No. 5 Worst-Paying Job: Counter attendant, cafeteria, food concession, and coffee shop
Mean hourly wages: $9.45
Mean annual wages: $19,650
Employees in the field: 451,730
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