How to Become a Sports Medicine Doctor in 5 Steps

Sports medicine physicians work with both athletes and non-athletes to prevent and treat sports related injuries and to promote overall health through healthy lifestyle habits and safe exercise practices. Read on to learn about sports medicine physician school and how to become a sports medicine doctor. Schools offering Kinesiology & Sport Science degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

Sports Medicine Requirements

Sports medicine physicians are specialized in the prevention and treatment of sports-related injuries. Primary care sports doctors use non-operative procedures to treat injuries. They lead a sports medicine team, which may include athletic trainers, coaches, physical therapists, and specialty surgeons. They diagnose injuries, recommend treatment, and refer patients to other specialists, such as orthopedic surgeons. Orthopedic surgeons are surgeons who are specialized in the operative treatment of sports injuries.

These sports medicine physicians may work with student athletes, amateur athletes, and professional athletes. They may also work with people who are seeking to improve their fitness or people who are injured through exercise.

Degree Required Bachelor's degree;
Doctor of Medicine (M.D.) or Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine (D.O.)
Training Requirements:
Primary Care Sports Doctors
Residency in internal medicine, emergency medicine, family medicine, pediatrics, neuromusculoskeletal, or rehabilitation medicine;
Fellowship in sports medicine
Training Requirements:
Orthopedic Surgeon
Residency in orthopedic surgery;
Fellowship in surgical sports medicine
Licensure U.S. Medical Licensing Exam (USMLE) or Comprehensive Osteopathic Medical Licensing Exam (COMLEX-USA)
Certification: Primary Care Sports Doctors Board certification in residency specialty;
Certificate of Added Qualifications (CAQ) in Sports Medicine
Job Growth (2018-2028) 7% for all physicians and surgeons*
Average Salary (2019) $181,250**

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

How to Become a Sports Medicine Doctor

Step 1: Get a Bachelor's Degree

The first step towards a career in sports medicine is to earn a bachelor's degree. The next step will be to attend medical school, so undergraduates should plan their undergraduate coursework and extracurriculars accordingly. Science majors are recommended, such as biology or chemistry. All medical schools require applicants to have taken a certain number of specified science courses. Students should also participate in activities that demonstrate their leadership abilities, empathy, and interpersonal skills.

Step 2: Attend Medical School

Aspiring sports medicine physicians must next earn a medical degree, either a Doctor of Medicine (M.D.) or a Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine (D.O.). Osteopathic programs place more emphasis on preventative care and the musculoskeletal system than medical doctor programs.

During the first two years of medical school, students take courses on the human body, patient care, and medical ethics. The next two years are spent in clinical rotations in a variety of settings, where students learn to care for and communicate with patients, record medical information, and collaborate with other physicians.

Step 3: Complete a Residency

Residencies are where the path for individuals pursuing a primary care sports medicine career and those pursuing an orthopedic surgery career will diverge. Aspiring primary care sports medicine doctors generally first complete a 3-year residency in family medicine. Other residency options are: internal medicine, emergency medicine, pediatrics, neuromusculoskeletal, and rehabilitation medicine. Aspiring orthopedic surgeons complete an orthopedic surgery residency.

Step 4: Pursue a Fellowship

Following their residencies, physicians pursuing a career in primary care sports medicine will complete a one- to two-year fellowship in sports medicine. During their fellowship, they learn more about sports injuries and work as team doctors for a local high school or college sports team. They also work within an orthopedic surgery setting and assist in some surgeries. Finally, they continue their training in their initial specialty, such as pediatrics or family medicine.

Individuals pursuing a career in orthopedic surgery can complete a one- to two-year surgical sports medicine fellowship, where they gain more experience in surgically treating sports injuries. Some fellowships train orthopedic surgeons in treating a variety of sports-related injuries. Other fellowships are focused on treating sports-related injuries to a particular joint, such as the shoulder.

Step 5: Earn Licensure and Certification

Both primary care sports medicine doctors and orthopedic surgeons must pass a national standardized licensing exam. Medical doctors must pass the U.S. Medical Licensing Exam (USMLE). Osteopathic doctors must pass the Comprehensive Osteopathic Medical Licensing Exam (COMLEX-USA). These exams consist of three parts. The first two parts are taken during medical school. The final part is taken during the residency.

Primary care sports medicine doctors can earn the Certificate of Added Qualifications (CAQ) in Sports Medicine. In order to be eligible for the CAQ, candidates must have completed their Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education (ACGME)-approved fellowship, hold a medical license, and have a certification in their residency specialty. Board certification programs must be approved by the American Board of Medical Specialties (ABMS) or the American Osteopathic Association (AOA).

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