Money isn’t everything. But if it were, you’d want to be a doctor.

Surgeons and physicians hold the highest-paying jobs in 11 of Maine’s 16 counties, according to the Maine Department of Labor.

In four other counties, it pays to be a chief executive — $66 an hour or better, to be exact.

In Franklin County, pharmacists are on top.

Data collected by the state in 2013 show regional differences in wages and top-paying jobs around Maine — some even with projected openings around the corner.

Should any new year’s resolution involve a career change or new path, the figures can be informative, with one career-counseling caveat: Make sure you’d want to do the job first.

“Life is way too short to be doing work we don’t like,” said Mary LaFontaine, manager of the Lewiston CareerCenter. “All the money in the world doesn’t buy happiness, right?”

All 10 of the top 10 highest-paying jobs in Maine, and 14 of the top 20, are in the medical field, rounded out by sales engineers, architectural and natural sciences managers, physicists, judges and chief executives, a category that includes hospital heads.

With an average annual wage of $241,400, anesthesiologists have the highest-paying positions in the state, $6,000 ahead of surgeons and physicians and 14 times more than the lowest-paying job here, locker-room attendant.

At the county level, those high-paying jobs show a little more variance: In Androscoggin, personal finance advisers, sales reps and lawyers crack the top 20. In Oxford, there are also business operations specialists and first-line supervisors. In Franklin, sales managers, accountants and postmasters.

Top pay also varies by county. The figures show that surgeons in Aroostook earn an average of $263,806 a year, almost $10,000 more than surgeons in York, at $254,257.

The difference may be a sort of location premium.

While he hasn’t specifically researched the question, “it could very well be the price they pay to attract workers to the area,” said Merrill Huhtala, program manager in Occupational Employment Statistics at the DOL’s Center for Workforce Research and Information. “While The County might be an ideal location for many of us, for some professionals, it’s kind of an arduous assignment.”

Lawyers in York County, meanwhile, earn $134,165 on average, 36 percent more than lawyers in Androscoggin — maybe a premium for dealing with summer tourists.

Huhtala cautioned that the figures have some imperfections: When only a handful of people — under 20 — work in one occupation in an area, or if only one or two companies employ everyone in a given field, those numbers are stripped from the local data to protect confidentiality.

“You don’t want to identify specific individuals or specific companies and what their pay scales might be,” he said.

But even with those limitations, the DOL projected that 16 of the top wage-earning jobs in the state will have openings soon, if they don’t already: Between 2010 and 2020, Maine is expected to need nine physicists, 20 obstetricians, 188 pharmacists, 51 medical scientists and 400 more physicians and surgeons, a mix of new positions and replacement hires for retirees.

But before you reach for a stethoscope, give it some thought.

‘I want to be . . . ‘

Pay should be in the mix along with personal aptitude, skills and how much training you want to take on, LaFontaine said. “It’s important to do what we like to do and what we’re good at.”

Also important are geography and demands. Do you want to live in Maine or somewhere warmer? Can family life work around a career that might entail a lot of second shifts?

And what sounds more realistic: a 12-week training course or a four-year bachelor’s degree?

“Ultimately, if you’re paying for it, it’s your choice,” LaFontaine said. “If (government programs) are paying for the training, we would not pay for a job that’s not growing in demand. We will look at that (DOL growth projection) list. It does not make sense to train you to be a typewriter repair person.

“The other piece to consider is not what is the highest paid and open now, but what do we project to be the openings,” she said. “While there may not be many openings in some of those jobs, within five years those industries and occupations are going to be very difficult to fill.”

She also suggested people not get bogged down by the top 20 highest-paying careers, which range statewide from $116 an hour to $49 an hour. There are plenty of good jobs below that.

Central Maine Community College offers a Career Coach feature on its website. A quick search brings up job listings, pay ranges, employee age ranges, estimated annual openings and educational requirements for jobs within 50 miles of Auburn.

“It really gives you a comprehensive look at what’s going on in this area here and now,” said Liz Oken, CMCC’s director of placement and transfer services.

After hearing about pay and demand, “A lot of students come in, ‘I want to be a nurse,'” she said. “Maybe they’re not strong on sciences; they really have to think about what they do well.”

She also advises students to check out the competition — “Am I realistically going to be able to get into law school? Am I going to be able to get into med school?” — and not to be afraid to invest in themselves.

“The whole idea of return on investment is a big thing,” Oken said.

Fourteen of the 20 top-paying Maine jobs require a doctoral degree; the minimum requirement is a bachelor’s degree.

“(Doctors) are in school for eight-plus years, depending on their area of expertise,” LaFontaine said.

There’s student loan debt to pay back. Pricey malpractice insurance to pay for.

“And then you think about the hours they work,” she said. “Most doctors don’t work 8 to 5 Monday to Friday. The weekends, the on-call and the high level of stress — those are all things for people to think about. Yeah, that paycheck looks really nice, but they truthfully earn that.”

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This story was updated at 2:26 p.m. Monday.


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