How Do I Become an Orthopedic Surgeon?

Do you possess physical dexterity and compassion? Are you a detail-oriented problem-solver? If so, you might be wondering how to become an orthopedic surgeon. An orthopedic surgeon is a physician that diagnoses, operates inside the human body and otherwise treats musculoskeletal injury, deformity and diseases. Musculoskeletal injuries include sports injuries, tumors, infections, musculoskeletal trauma, degenerative diseases and congenital disorders. Orthopedic surgery involves any part of the musculoskeletal system, which is made up of bones, joints, skin, nerves, muscles, ligaments and tendons. An orthopedic surgeon does not spend all of his or her time in an operating room. The American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons estimates that orthopedic surgeons generally spend as much as half of their work hours providing nonsurgical treatment to patients with musculoskeletal injuries.

An orthopedic surgeon will commonly treat bone fractures and dislocations. Ligament tears, strains and sprains fall under the care of orthopedic surgeons, as do pulled muscles and tendon damage. The discipline also treats back issues like scoliosis, back pain, ruptured disks and sciatica. Patients with osteoporosis or arthritis will see an orthopedic surgeon for care, as will those that develop cerebral palsy, muscular dystrophy and bone tumors. Orthopedic surgeons also handle injuries and deformities of the legs and feet, including bow lets, legs of uneven length, knock knees, club feet, bunions, hammer toes and otherwise abnormal toes, as well as abnormal fingers. An orthopedic surgeon may further specialize in treating pediatric patients, providing surgical sports medicine, treating orthopedic trauma or surgery of the hand, elbow, shoulder, spine or foot and ankle, among other subjects.

To become an orthopedic surgeon, a candidate must earn a medical degree. The process requires a significant investment of the student’s time. The American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons states that aspiring orthopedic surgeons should earn a four-year college degree, followed by four years of medical school and an additional five years of graduate medical education through an accredited internship or residency program completed at a hospital. These residency programs typically include one year of training in general surgery, internal medicine or another branch of medicine and four years of experience in orthopedic surgery specifically. Like all surgeons and physicians, orthopedic surgeons are required to obtain a license to practice within a state. To earn board certification from the American Board of Orthopaedic Surgery, orthopedic surgeons must successfully complete their residency requirement and both written and oral tests. Board certification also requires at least two years of experience practicing orthopedic surgery.

The United States Department of Labor Bureau of Labor Statistics finds that surgeons and physicians in all specialties are among the highest-paid occupations in the United States. lists the median national salary for an orthopedic surgeon at $415,042. If you are detail-oriented, compassionate and skilled at working accurately with your hands, a career as an orthopedic surgeon may be perfect for you. Now that you know how to become an orthopedic surgeon, you can begin working toward a meaningful and well-paid new career.

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