Sports Medicine Careers: Salary and Job Facts

Find out about the types of jobs you could pursue in the field of sports medicine. Read on to learn more about career options along with common education requirements and potential salary. Schools offering Kinesiology & Sport Science degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What Are Career Options in the Field of Sports Medicine?

There are a variety of career options available in the sports medicine field. For example, you may become an athletic trainer or even a physician. Athletic trainers work in every kind of collegiate and professional athletic program while licensed physicians will need to specialize in sports medicine and may also work in professional athletic programs or hold their own practices. As an athletic trainer, you may work with children all the way to older adults and could work with amateur or professional athletes. You will likely work under a physician's supervision and will carry out their plans to keep athletes healthy through prevention and rehabilitation of injuries. As a sports medicine physician, you will treat patients with sports-related injuries, help develop plans for safe activity and rehabilitation and may perform surgeries or procedures.

If working in this field appeals to you, refer to the chart below for an overview of these two career paths.

Athletic Trainer Physician specializing in sports medicine
Degree Required Bachelor's M.D.
Licensure/Certification State certification required State licensure required
Key Responsibilities Diagnose and evaluate injuries, develop and oversee rehabilitation programs, maintain accurate records and apply simple preventive care devices Diagnose and treat various athletic injuries, recommend and implement specialized treatment plans to help heal injuries, document patient progress and answer patient questions or concerns
Job Outlook (2014-2024) 21% for all athletic trainers and exercise physiologists* 14% for all physicians and surgeons*
Median Salary $44,670 (2015)* $185,007 (2017)**

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics **

What Sorts of Jobs Can I Hold in Sports Medicine?

The duties of a trainer include the treating and preventing of a wide range of injuries within athletic contests. A career in athletic training usually entails formal education and health and exercise science certifications. Furthermore, a majority of professional trainers possess advanced credentials in their field.

In addition to trainers, physicians and surgeons may specialize in sports medicine issues. Orthopedic surgeons frequently perform operations to treat athlete's damaged ligaments and tendons. Physicians are also on hand during major sporting events to diagnose and treat serious injuries like concussions and spinal damage.

What Kind of Education Do I Need?

Athletic trainers generally need to possess a bachelor's degree. Many large universities have health programs that offer 4-year degrees with an emphasis on sports medicine. Your courses in these programs will include a general core curriculum in the humanities and sciences, as well as more focused studies with courses such as anatomy and nutrition. Additionally, many of these programs provide opportunities for aspiring sports medicine practitioners to assist with their collegiate athletic teams.

The path to a career as a physician is lengthy. You will need to pursue a 4-year bachelor's degree, satisfying the basic requirements for admission to medical school. Medical programs generally award the 4-year Doctor of Medicine (M.D.) degree, though some schools do award another 4-year degree: the Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine (D.O.). Your curriculum in these programs will include subjects such as gerontology, pediatrics and pharmacology. You will also spend considerable time in laboratory and clinical settings.

Following medical school, you will need to participate in a residency that is relevant to sports medicine such as orthopedic surgery. Residency programs are advanced education for physicians that allow for specialization in an area of medicine. They may run three to eight years.

Will I Need to be Licensed?

Every state and territory in the U.S. demands that physicians be licensed. You will need to take the United States Medical Licensing Exam (USMLE) and follow the licensing practices established by the state in which you would like to work.

Athletic trainers are almost always licensed as well. Licensing entails taking a standardized exam, satisfying curriculum requirements and adhering to state mandated licensing procedure.

What Kind of Skills Do I Need?

Sports medicine is a hands-on field that requires a great deal of interaction with other individuals. Strong social skills, a desire to help and a passion for athletic pursuits are all beneficial to aspiring sports medicine specialists.

What Kind of Salary Will I Have?

In 2015, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported that the median annual salary of athletic trainers was $44,670. According to, physicians who specialize in sports medicine received a median annual salary of $185,007. Furthermore, the job prospects in the field of healthcare are strong.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

If you're looking for a similar career in the field of sports medicine, you may want to think about becoming a physical therapist. Physical therapists often work with those who have suffered sports injuries and support their progress while they recover. In this case, you may want to specialize in orthopedics. Physical therapists also work with a variety of age groups and may work with situations unrelated to sports, such as stroke or chronic disabilities. To become a physical therapist you will need to be licensed in your state and complete a doctor of physical therapy (DPT) degree program.

You may also wish to consider becoming a chiropractor. Chiropractors manipulate and adjust the body to improve problems in the neuromusculoskeletal system. Often chiropractors use other techniques to improve overall health. including massage, ultrasounds and exercise. In this career, you may choose to specialize in sports or orthopedics if you prefer to work in the sports medicine field. It will be necessary for you to obtain a doctor of chiropractic degree (D.C.) and to be licensed in your state.

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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