Orthopedic Surgeon: Career and Salary Facts

Explore the career requirements for orthopedic surgeons. Get the facts about job duties, education and salary 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?

Orthopedic surgeons are physicians who specialize in the diagnosis and treatment of patients with disorders and injuries of the musculoskeletal system. In addition to conducting surgical procedures, they also use rehabilitation and other medical techniques to help patients manage and/or recover from conditions like bone fractures, ruptured disks, arthritis, osteoporosis, bone cancer, club foot and muscular dystrophy. Some are also involved in cutting-edge research to advance knowledge in the field.

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

Degree Required Doctor of Medicine (MD) or a Doctor of Osteopathy (DO)
Training Required 5-year residency
Licensure or Certification Doctors must be licensed in all states; board certification is available
Key Responsibilities Examine patients for injuries and disease in bones, ligaments and skeleton; use surgical and non-surgical techniques to repair, replace and heal bone and ligament problems, disease and injury; prescribe medication and treatment; advise patients about their orthopedic health and care
Job Growth (2014-2024) 14% for all physicians and surgeons*
Median Salary (2016) $351,834**

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), **Payscale.com

What Would I Do as an Orthopedic Surgeon?

Orthopedic surgery, which involves procedures on the musculoskeletal body system, is one of the most common specializations for surgeons. As an orthopedic surgeon, you could perform procedures ranging from broken bone correction to knee replacements. You could also further specialize in a certain area such as spine, hand or pediatric surgery. You will need to have excellent dexterity and attention to detail when working on delicate body structures in the sterile environment of the operating room. Surgeons are often on call or spend long shifts at the hospital, so you need to be prepared to perform your critical work at odd hours or after a long day.

What Education Do I Need?

To become a surgeon, you'll need to attend medical school, so you should choose a pre-med track for your undergraduate education. You can apply to either a Doctor of Medicine (MD) or a Doctor of Osteopathy (DO) degree program after you have completed your bachelor's degree program and taken the Medical College Admission Test, or MCAT, available through the Association of American Medical Colleges (www.aamc.org). In the first four years of medical school, you will study biology, anatomy and the basics of many different concentrations in healthcare, and then apply for a surgical residency to further hone your knowledge and skills.

You will need to pass a licensing exam - either the United State Medical Licensing Exam for MDs or the Comprehensive Osteopathic Medical Licensing Exam for DOs - before you can legally practice medicine in the U.S. You may also choose to seek board certification from the American Board of Orthopaedic Surgery after you have gained some hours of experience in that specialty (www.abos.org).

What Salary Could I Earn?

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported in May 2015 that surgeons in general made a median annual wage greater than $187,199 (www.bls.gov). PayScale.com reported in October 2016 that orthopedic surgeons in the 10th-90th percentile range made total pay in the range of $116,411 - $568,303.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

As a surgeon, you could choose to specialize in a medical subfield other than orthopedics. For instance, you could choose to become a general surgeon, or you could specialize in neurological surgery or pediatric surgery. There are also many non-surgical residency programs for trained physicians to choose from, including internal medicine, emergency medicine, psychiatry and dermatology, among others. Another option related to musculoskeletal disorders and injury rehabilitation is a job as a physical therapist. These professionals need a Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) degree and a license to practice.

To continue researching, browse degree options below for course curriculum, prerequisites and financial aid information. Or, learn more about the subject by reading the related articles below:

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