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Sports Medicine Doctor: Educational Requirements

Sports medicine doctors treat athletes and other performers who may suffer injuries through physical activity. The educational requirements for becoming a sports medicine doctor include extensive graduate schooling. Unlike some doctors who need just a residency, sports medicine doctors must complete a fellowship for specialized training.

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Educational Requirements for a Sports Medicine Doctor

A sports medicine doctor specializes in the prevention and treatment of injuries that resulted from athletic activity. These medical professionals treat disorders of musculoskeletal system, which involve ligaments, bones and muscles, as well as chronic conditions. They often focus on either general sports medicine or orthopedic surgery. Some sports medicine doctors are affiliated with a single college or professional team. They may observe practices and games, treating injuries onsite when they arise and advising coaches and trainers on preventive issues.

Undergraduate Education

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, most applicants to medical school have a bachelor's degree (www.bls.gov). While there isn't a bachelor's degree specific to sports medicine, students may choose a biology, chemistry or related major based in science. Some schools offer pre-medicine programs within their health, science or engineering departments. These programs may include coursework and labs in chemistry, biology and physics.

Medical School

Medical school curricula are divided between the pre-clinical and clinical years. During the pre-clinical years, students learn foundational concepts in the practice of medicine, major systems of the body and medical conditions. Students may do simulation labs and other exercises that replicate real-life experiences. Besides medical concepts, these programs introduce students to methods in patient care, including consultations and professionalism.

The clinical years place medical students in different departments under the supervision of licensed medical professionals. While sports medicine isn't a required rotation, interested students may pursue it as an elective. A rotation in sports medicine may include experience with diagnostic equipment, treatment plans and issues related to the treatment of athletes.

Students may consider programs that are accredited by the Liaison Committee on Medical Education (LCME). According to the LCME, graduating from an accredited program makes an individual eligible for residency programs and the licensing examination (www.lcme.org).

Residency

According to the American Osteopathic Academy of Sports Medicine (AOASM), most prospective sports medicine doctors choose to undergo a family medicine residency (www.aoasm.org). These programs typically last three years and consist of advanced clinical rotations. A sports medicine rotation may be included, as well as other relevant areas such as cardiology. Residents receive benefits, including a stipend that increases as they advance through a program.

Fellowship

To specialize as a sports medicine doctor, individuals must complete a fellowship, which typically last 1-2 years. These programs provide rotations in subspecialties of sports medicine and related medical practices. Many fellowships place individuals in the field to provide support during an athletic event. Fellows may be responsible for research projects or teaching medical students and residents.

Students may consider programs that are accredited by the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education (ACGME), which accredits residencies and fellowship programs. According to the ACGME, completing an accredited program is a prerequisite for certification by primary medical boards and many subspecialty medical boards (www.acgme.org).

Employment Outlook and Salary Info

According to November 2013 data from Salary.com, physicians specializing in sports medicine had a median expected salary of around $200,427. The top 10% of these doctors earned more than $300,000, while the bottom 10% earned roughly $147,000 or less per year. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics notes that employment opportunities for all physicians and surgeons were projected to increase 24% between 2010 and 2020, which is notably faster than the national average.

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