Top-Paying Jobs

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By Beth Braverman and Alexis Jeffries

top-paying jobsAnesthesiologists take home a median $292,000 salary annually. What other great careers from Money and PayScale.com's list of Best Jobs in America offer big paychecks?


1. Anesthesiologist

Best Jobs rank: 11*

Median salary: $292,000

Top pay: $408,000

The high pay for anesthesiologists reflects inherent stress in a job that is literally about life and death. "Anesthesiologists get patients safely and intact through operations while surgeons do things that would otherwise kill them," says Roger Moore, president of the American Society of Anesthesiologists. The big salaries are also a payback for the 12-plus years of training required before an anesthesiologist can start practicing.


2. Physician/Obstetrician/Gynecologist

Best Jobs rank: 22*

Median salary: $222,000

Top pay: $338,000

OB/GYN salaries reflect the high malpractice insurance premiums they must pay, due to the riskiness of the job and the need to regularly perform surgery. High demand boosts compensation, too: Since OB/GYNs function as the primary doctor for many women and generally treat patients for long stints of time (think nine months), there's always a need for their services.


3. Psychiatrist

Best Jobs rank: 24

Median salary: $177,000

Top pay: $279,000

Psychiatrists typically charge a hefty hourly fee, and have little trouble collecting since most of their patients pay for the services out of pocket. Independent practitioners require little overhead and pay relatively low malpractice insurance rates, which helps keep profits flowing.


4. Nurse Anesthetist

Best Jobs rank: 15

Median salary: $157,000

Top pay: $214,000

Like the anesthesiologists to whom they report, nurse anesthetists get paid to never make a mistake. Anesthesia mortality rates have fallen from two deaths per 10,000 in the 1980s to 1 per 200,000 today. That means nurse anesthetists must be at the top of their game, even when working a 2 a.m. shift or staffing the ER on New Year's Eve.


5. Sales Director

Best Jobs rank: 10*

Median salary: $140,000

Top pay: $239,000

Sales directors make big bucks because they bring in big bucks for their employers. "Sales is the lifeblood of any company, and that's why it's one of the highest-paid professions," says Robert Boroff, managing director of recruiting firm Reaction Search International. Sales directors also get compensated for recruiting, mentoring and managing the most productive team possible.


6. Actuary

Best Jobs rank: N.A.

Median salary: $129,000

Top pay: $257,000

Companies know that it's worth paying a hefty salary to keep a competent actuary on staff: A major error in an actuarial task like pricing a product or securing cash reserves could mean lights out for the entire firm. The salary also takes into account hefty education requirements: To become fully knighted as an actuary, professionals must go beyond an undergraduate degree to complete an additional 10 years of study and exams.


7. Finance Director

Best Jobs rank: 29

Median salary: $121,000

Top pay: $214,000

Finance directors have high-profile positions with salaries to match. They also shoulder the hefty responsibility of managing financial risk. Companies are willing to pony up to ensure that their finance director has the book smarts (CPA and an MBA at most large companies) and the business acumen to generate accurate forecasts and budgets.


Next: Top 10 Companies Hiring This Week >>


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