How Can I Become an Orthopedic Surgeon?

Explore the career requirements for orthopedic surgeons. Get the facts about job duties, education, licensure requirements and job growth to determine if this is the right career for you. Schools offering Surgical Technology degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What Is an Orthopedic Surgeon?

An orthopedic surgeon is a surgeon that specializes in treating the musculoskeletal system. Common surgeries are performed for arthritis, fractures and scoliosis. Orthopedic surgeons perform diagnostic tests, work with patients to create treatment plans and discuss preoperative, operative, and postoperative care.

The following chart provides an overview about becoming an orthopedic surgeon.

Degree Required Doctor of Medicine (M.D.)
Training Required 5-year residency
Key Responsibilities Examine patients, diagnose musculoskeletal conditions and determine if surgery is suitable; perform surgery on bones, ligaments and tendons; order treatment and therapy to strengthen, heal and restore normal function
Licensure or Certification All states require doctors to be licensed; board certification in surgery and orthopedic surgery is available
Projected Job Growth (2014-2024)* 20% for all surgeons
Median Annual Salary (2016)** $351,834

Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, **PayScale.com

What Type of Work Will I Do As an Orthopedic Surgeon?

Orthopedic surgeons diagnose and treat disorders, including fractures, tendon injuries, arthritis, osteoporosis and other bone and joint diseases. The American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons states that approximately one-third of orthopedic surgeons confine their practice to an area of specialization, such as the spine, foot, knee or hip (www.orthoinfo.aaos.org).

What Education and Training Will I Need?

Orthopedic surgeons must obtain a bachelor's degree, a 4-year medical degree and complete a 5-year graduate medical residency. Your residency includes patient contact, general surgical practice, subspecialty work and research. You may also go on to a fellowship after your residency to specialize further in an area, such as pediatric orthopedics or hand surgery. No particular undergraduate major is required for medical school, but you must have finished at least three years of college with coursework in chemistry, physics, biology, English and math. You must also take the Medical College Admission Test and obtain recommendations from college professors.

What Licensing and Certification Should I Have?

All states require medical doctors to be licensed to practice. Consult your state's medical licensing board website for information specific to your state. The American Medical Association provides links to state medical boards and other information about licensure (www.ama-assn.org). Certification by the American Board of Orthopaedic Surgery is voluntary, but most orthopedic surgeons do obtain it (www.abos.org). Candidates seeking board certification must have passed oral and written exams, completed an orthopedic residency and have practiced orthopedic surgery for at least two years.

What Type of Working Conditions Could I Expect?

As an orthopedic surgeon, you may choose to open an independent practice or join a group of other practitioners, either as a single-specialty or as a multi-specialty group. Other possibilities include working in managed healthcare organizations and teaching in a medical school. In most cases, your time will be divided between preparing for and performing surgery, working directly with patients and consulting with other doctors. Hours may be long and irregular, and you'll likely need to travel between your office and the hospital, as well as take on-call hours for emergencies over nights, weekends and holidays.

What Is the Job Outlook for This Career?

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) anticipated that employment for all surgeons would grow 20% during the decade between 2014 and 2024. This percentage is significantly faster than the growth rate anticipated for all occupations. The BLS named orthopedic surgery among the most prevalent specialties for surgeons.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

Of course, one can specialize in a different sector of surgery, or work more broadly. General surgery entails basic or routine operations and procedures, typically done by in-house surgeons who haven't chosen a specialty yet. One may also want to complete a residency in plastic surgery, which deals with cosmetic or esthetic operations. Plastic surgeons typically alter a patient's appearance for beauty reasons or to restore or correct any disfigurements.

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