Orthopedic Surgeon: Career Info & Requirements

Orthopedic surgeons focus on the skeleton and muscles and may specialize in certain parts of the body. Their education, like other surgeons, requires extensive training and ongoing learning.
Essential Information
Orthopedic surgeons are medical doctors who specialize in treating the musculoskeletal system; they may specialize in areas such as sports medicine or hand surgery. The orthopedic surgery career path requires 8-9 years of post-baccalaureate education, along with continued maintenance of board certification.
Required Education Doctor of Medicine (M.D.) degree and 4-5 year residency in a hospital
Other Requirements State medical license and board certification in orthopedic surgery
Projected Job Growth (2018-2028)* 7% for all physicians and surgeons
Mean Salary (2018)* $255,110 for all surgeons
Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics
Career Information
Orthopedic surgeons operate on patients with musculoskeletal problems, including arm, leg, neck, bone and tissue ailments. Orthopedic disorders and conditions may range from congenital deformities to musculoskeletal injuries, trauma and tumors. These surgeons perform operations on patients who are under general anesthesia. The field offers qualified individuals the chance to build lucrative careers in hospitals, academic medical centers or private practice environments.
Career and Earnings Outlook
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) forecasted 7% growth for physicians and surgeons from 2018-2028, particularly in rural areas of the U.S. where there is a low ratio of physicians to the population (www.bls.gov). The BLS reports that surgeons made an average salary of $255,110 annually as of May 2018. Because orthopedic surgery is a popular area of specialty, jobs may be more competitive in traditional environments, such as hospitals and health centers.
Career Requirements
After completing a 4-year bachelor’s degree program in biology, pre-medicine or a related field, aspiring orthopedic surgeons must complete four additional years of medical school, followed by a 4- to 5-year orthopedic surgery residency in a hospital. The first year of residency usually covers general surgery, with the remaining years devoted to orthopedic-specific training. Surgeons wishing to specialize further in subspecialties, such as orthopedic sports medicine or pediatric orthopedics, must also complete a 1- to 2-year fellowship after their residency.
Required Licensing and Certification
Like all doctors, orthopedic surgeons must pass the U.S. Medical Licensing Examination to legally practice (www.usmle.org). This exam can be taken in several parts, usually while students are still involved in their residencies. After completing their residencies, orthopedic surgeons must also pass an exam by the American Board of Orthopedic Surgery, a division of the American Board of Medical Specialties, in order to be certified in their area of surgery (www.abos.org). Recertification is required every 7-10 years.
Skills Required
Orthopedic surgeons must have a thorough understanding of current medical technologies, medical ethics, pharmacology and physiology. A particular aptitude for musculoskeletal health, disease prevention and treatment is essential.
An orthopedic surgery career also requires an ability to work long hours and make solid decisions under pressure. Orthopedic surgeons must stay abreast of new developments in the orthopedic surgery field.
Orthopedic surgeons complete more than a decade of training, including an orthopedic surgical residency in a hospital. They must pass the complex USMLE exam to earn their medical license, then take an exam to become board certified as an orthopedic surgeon. Jobs for physicians and surgeons of all types are projected to grow at a faster than average rate from 2018-2028, and salaries for surgeons averaged nearly $260,000 in 2018.
Expert Contributor: Kristyn Blandford Kristyn has a master’s degree and 11+ years’ experience in health-related
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