United States general practitioners and specialists are among the highest paid physicians in the world, according to a 2007 Congressional Research Service report.

However, a direct cross-country comparison is challenging due to the varying standards of living provided by the same salary in different locations. Here are two ways of making the comparison:

One analysis adjusts salaries by purchasing-power parities. In this comparison, the numbers are adjusted to allow $1,000 to buy an equal amount of goods and services in every country, making it possible to appreciate the standards of  living (Average Compensation in U.S. Dollar Purchasing Power, columns 2 and 4). General practice physicians rank at the top in this comparison, with specialists not far behind.

The other method of comparison takes physician salaries compared to the average national income by country—specifically, the gross domestic product (GDP) per capita (Average Compensation in U.S. Dollar Purchasing Power, columns 3 and 5). It is statistically valid for the compensation of physicians to increase as a country’s wealth increases; although even this calculation cannot explain the rate at which the United States compensates its physicians.

Physician compensation worldwide
Source: Congressional Research Service (CRS) analysis of
Remuneration of Health Professions, Organization for
Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) Health
Data 2006, October 2006.

As the report suggests, perhaps the variance is related in part to the cost of higher education. For example, while students of other countries may begin their careers with little to no educational debt, an astounding 87.6 percent of 2006 American medical school graduates had outstanding educational
loans averaging $129,943.