How to Become a Sports Medicine Doctor in 5 Steps

Explore the career requirements for sports medicine doctors. Get the facts about education, licensure requirements and training to determine if this is the right career for you. Schools offering Kinesiology & Sport Science degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What Does a Sports Medicine Doctor Do?

Sports medicine doctors are physicians who have completed residency training in a specialty, such as family medicine, internal medicine, pediatrics or emergency medicine, and then gone on to complete additional fellowship training in sports medicine. They specialize in treating athletes and other physically active individuals. Sports medicine doctors often observe their patients during physical activities or have them perform physical tests in order to develop or modify an individualized treatment plan for injuries. They can also prescribe medication if necessary. They must be able to communicate well with their patients and educate them on their conditions and ways to improve their overall health. The following chart provides an overview about becoming a sports medicine doctor.

Degree Required Medical Doctor (M.D.), Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine (D.O.)
Training Required 3- to 4-year residency followed by a 1- to 2- year sports medicine fellowship
Key Responsibilities Examine patients and diagnose athletic-related injuries; prescribe medication and treatments; order diagnostic tests and analyze results; counsel patients regarding their athletic health and activities
Licensure or Certification Licensure for doctors is required in all states; board certification is available in sports medicine
Job Growth (2014-2024) 14% for all physicians and surgeons*
Median Salary (2017) $216,706**

Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), **Salary.com

What Is a Sports Medicine Doctor?

A sports medicine doctor has extensive training in musculoskeletal medicine so that they can treat injuries and conditions related to physical activity, such as fractures, sprains and strains. Sports medicine doctors may also treat chronic illnesses that can affect physical performance, such as asthma and diabetes. They may counsel patients on subjects like eating for optimal nutrition, managing and preventing injuries, increasing physical fitness and living a healthy lifestyle.

Step 1: Earn a Bachelor's Degree

As an undergraduate student, you will need to complete premedical courses, which include inorganic and organic chemistry, biology, physics, English and mathematics. These courses will help you prepare for the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT), which is a requirement for entrance into most medical schools. Because admission to medical school is highly competitive, it is recommended that you earn a bachelor's degree, gain volunteer or paid healthcare experience, participate in extracurricular activities and take on some leadership roles prior to applying.

Step 2: Graduate from Medical School

You can choose to attend an allopathic medical school, which results in a Doctor of Medicine (M.D.) degree, or an osteopathic medical school, which results in a Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine (D.O.) degree. The main difference between these programs is that osteopathic programs place extra emphasis on the musculoskeletal system and preventative medicine. In both types of programs, you will spend your first two years taking science courses, such as biochemistry, anatomy, physiology, microbiology, pathology and pharmacology. You will spend your final two years completing clinical rotations in various medical specialties, such as psychiatry, surgery, family practice, internal medicine and pediatrics. During your clinical rotations, you will gain experience taking medical histories, performing examinations and making diagnoses.

Step 3: Earn a Medical License

A license is required before physicians may begin practicing medicine in the United States. The licensing exam for allopathic physicians is known as the United States Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE), while the Comprehensive Osteopathic Medical Licensing Exam (COMLEX) is the osteopathic equivalent. With either exam, you will be tested on basic science concepts and how well you apply these concepts to the practice of medicine. Both require that you successfully pass three parts before a license is conferred.

Step 4: Complete a Residency

Once you are a licensed physician, you must begin residency training. Aspiring sports medicine doctors may choose to complete their residency in a primary care specialty, such as family medicine, internal medicine or pediatrics. However, you may also choose to enter a residency in physical medicine and rehabilitation or emergency medicine or orthopedic surgery. Residency programs in these specialties generally take 3-4 years to complete. As a resident, you may attend lectures and seminars, complete clinical rotations and participate in research.

After completion of your residency, you may earn voluntary board certification in your specialty from the appropriate specialty board. It is important to note that any organization offering board certification should be accredited by either the American Board of Medical Specialties (ABMS) or the American Osteopathic Association (AOA). You must first earn board certification in your specialty before going on to earn a Certificate of Added Qualifications (CAQ) in sports medicine.

Step 5: Complete a Fellowship

The final step to becoming a sports medicine doctor is to complete a fellowship in primary care sports medicine if you're a primary care physician or a surgical sports medicine fellowship if you're an orthopedic surgeon. These programs, which are generally 1-2 years in length, place a lot of emphasis on the treatment of orthopedic injuries. While completing your fellowship, you may be required to attend athletic events and provide medical care as needed. You may also be required to attend conferences, gain teaching experience and complete a research project. When you have finished your fellowship as a primary care sports medicine physician, you may earn a CAQ in sports medicine. Orthopedic surgeons aren't required to earn a CAQ.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

Chiropractors, dentists and optometrists are all related career options that require a doctoral or professional degree. Chiropractors specialize in treating neck and back pain in patients. They may use spinal adjustments and other techniques to treat muscles, bones and nerves in these areas. Dentists provide preventative oral healthcare, as well as treat any conditions of the teeth, gums and mouth. Optometrists focus on treating a patient's visual system, including the eyes. They may prescribe glasses or contacts to improve vision, as well as treat any illness or injury of the eye.

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