Compensation outlook for psychiatrists: Location, specialty matter

By Joe Hannan | Fact-checked by Barbara Bekiesz
Published September 23, 2022

Key Takeaways

  • The median salary for psychiatrists stands at $208,000.

  • These earnings are comparable to those of other medical specialties, which dominate the top 10 spots in the U.S. News & World Report rankings.

  • While the compensation outlook is positive, psychiatrists also must contend with rising inflation and high levels of student loan debt.

Psychiatrists can measure the impact of their work by the number of lives they’ve changed, the studies they’ve published, or the mysteries of the mind they’ve elucidated. And it doesn’t hurt that the work can be lucrative.

But in the face of rising inflation and staggering student loan debt, is psychiatry as rewarding as it used to be? Compensation and geographical data on the profession paint a clearer picture.

Pay on par with other specialties

The median salary for psychiatrists was $208,000 in 2020, according to U.S. News & World Report.[] This is also how much the best-paid quartile of psychiatrists earned. The lowest-paid quartile made $135,000.

Psychiatry ranked seventh in the best-paying jobs of any profession, just behind physicians and edging out prosthodontists.

There was a dead heat among the top eight professions in the ranking, all of which earned a median salary of $208,000. And there was another trend: The first eleven professions in the ranking were all medical or dental specialties. The streak was broken by airline pilots at 12th place.

The US Bureau of Labor Statistics offers a slightly rosier compensation picture.[] It estimated that among the approximately 25,500 psychiatrists in the US, the mean annual salary is nearly $250,000. That works out to about $120 an hour.

As with many other specialties, where and how a psychiatrist practices was linked to compensation. For example, the Bureau estimated that the highest-earning psychiatrists (annual mean salary of $299,470) worked in outpatient care centers, whereas the lowest-earning ones (annual wage of $199,070) worked in hospitals. Even state government-employed psychiatrists out-earned their hospital-employed peers, bringing in a mean salary of $221,720.

This may prompt some psychiatrists to weigh a career move. But before you update your CV, consider the competitiveness of some of these environments. For example, while physician offices offer a leading annual mean wage of $280,600 (just behind outpatient centers), offices also employ the most psychiatrists overall (nearly 8,000, more than twice as many as in outpatient centers). In other words, while the grass may be greener in outpatient centers, there also may be more competition for that verdant turf.

Location, location, location

In addition to how they want to practice, psychiatrists must decide where. And data clearly indicate that location also affects compensation.

According to U.S. News & World Report, psychiatrists made the most in these five cities:

  • Riverside, CA: $297,710

  • Santa Rosa, CA: $289,580

  • Kansas City, MO: $287,220

  • Bridgeport, CT: $279,450

  • Tucson, AZ: $279,240

But before you start singing “California, Here I Come,” consider the cost of living. California came in dead last in U.S. News & World Report’s cost of living rankings, and second-to-last in its housing affordability rankings.[]

The price of a lanai must be climbing higher; buying a house in Hawaii is the only place in the US that will set a psychiatrist back more than California.

Your dollar will go much further in Missouri. The cost of living is the third-lowest there, behind Mississippi with the very lowest and Arkansas in second place. Housing is comparatively more affordable in Missouri, too. It’s just behind Pennsylvania and just ahead of North Dakota in the rankings.

Missouri also happens to be among the highest-paying states for psychiatrists, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics. The Bureau’s top-five states for mean annual salary include:

  • Missouri: $324,840

  • Maine: $324,220

  • New Jersey: $323,820

  • New Mexico: At least $208,000

  • Wyoming: At least $208,000

But before you set out for the Garden State, you may want to fuggedaboutit. Bruce Springsteen’s home state was 42nd in U.S. News & World Report’s cost of living ranking. Housing affordability was middle-of-the-pack at 22nd. Maine was only slightly better at 39th and 30th in the cost-of-living and housing-affordability rankings, respectively. New Mexico came in 24th and 35th, and Wyoming claimed the 32nd and 39th spots, respectively.

Economic uncertainty

It’s essential to put this compensation overview into the greater economic context.

While psychiatrists are among the nation’s top earners, they now have less buying power—just like every other American consumer.

The cost of all goods in the US as of August 2022 was 8.5% higher than July 2021, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics.[] Energy costs were up 32.9%, the price of food rose 11.4%, and the cost of vehicles increased 10.1% for new and 7.8% for used.

Plus, psychiatrists have comparatively high levels of student-loan debt. The AMA estimated that psychiatrists have a median debt of $190,000, second only to the debt carried by EMPs ($200,000).[] And while the Biden administration announced a plan for student-loan forgiveness, it’s unlikely that many psychiatrists will be eligible, because of their high earnings.

But despite inflation and student-loan debt, psychiatrists have a good forecast for job security.

A 2018 study published in Psychiatric Services estimated that by 2024, the United States will face a shortage of between 14,280 and 31,091 psychiatrists.[]

Notably, the study was published prior to the pandemic, which sparked an increased demand for mental health services. The Kaiser Family Foundation estimates that the United States is only meeting 28.1% of its total need for mental healthcare.[]

It would seem that psychiatrists will have an integral role in the recovery for years to come.

What this means for you

Pay for psychiatrists appears to be on par with that for other medical specialties, making choice of location and style of practice integral for maximizing earnings. Psychiatrists also must account for student-loan debt and economic forces such as inflation and the cost of housing, when managing their personal finances. Job security may offset some of these factors, however, as the country’s need for mental health services is currently unfulfilled.

Read Next: 5 career alternatives for psychiatrists who are ready to leave the clinic
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