Sports Physician: Job Description and Education Requirements

Sports physicians can be either primary care doctors or orthopedic surgeons. Their patients are predominantly athletes, and their focus is on promoting fitness and wellness. Completion of a medical degree and residency program are required to work in the field.

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Sports Physician Job Description

Sports physicians treat musculoskeletal injuries that occur as a result of participation in sports, such as knee and shoulder injuries, ankle sprains, head injuries, tendonitis and fractures. Additionally, primary care sports physicians may treat chronic health conditions that can affect athletic performance, such as asthma and diabetes.

Sports physicians counsel athletes, helping them maximize performance, prevent injuries and lead a healthy lifestyle. They may suggest supplements, diet plans or exercise regimens to address performance issues. They may also help athletes with psychological or substance abuse issues related to sports. Sports physicians collaborate with physical therapists, athletic trainers and other healthcare professionals to plan courses of treatment and rehabilitation for their patients.

Sports Physician Education Requirements

Undergraduate students interested in becoming sports physicians should take courses in chemistry, organic chemistry, physics and biology. An undergraduate degree is generally required for medical school. It is also important for undergraduate students to participate in extracurricular activities and demonstrate leadership abilities in order to be competitive applicants for medical school.

After completing their undergraduate education, aspiring sports physicians must complete four years of medical school. They must then pass the United States Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE) before they may practice medicine.

Those who would like to become primary care sports physicians usually complete a 3-year residency in family medicine after graduation from medical school. However, they may also complete a residency in internal medicine, emergency medicine, pediatrics or physical medicine and rehabilitation. Those who would like to become orthopedic surgeons who specialize in sports medicine must complete a residency in orthopedic surgery. At the conclusion of residency training, doctors may take an examination offered by the American Board of Medical Specialists (ABMS) or the American Osteopathic Association (AOA) to earn board certification in their chosen specialty.

After residency, the next step is to complete a 1-2 year fellowship in either sports medicine or surgical sports medicine. During this time, training focuses specifically on sports-related injuries. There is no additional certification examination for orthopedic surgeons after completing their fellowship, but there is for primary care doctors. Primary care doctors may earn the Certificate of Added Qualifications (CAQ) in sports medicine.

Employment Outlook and Salary Information

Although the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) doesn't publish information about sports physicians individually, it did report an annual average salary for physicians and surgeons not listed separately, of $184,820, in 2012. In addition, the BLS projected 24% job growth for physicians and surgeons, in general, from 2010-2020.

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