Becoming a Sports Medicine Doctor: Salary Info & Job Description

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What are the pros and cons of becoming a sports medicine doctor? Get real job descriptions and salary info to see if becoming a sports medicine doctor is right for you.
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Pros and Cons of Becoming a Sports Medicine Doctor

Sports medicine doctors are physicians who specialize in diagnosing, treating and preventing sports-related injuries. If you're wondering whether the positives of working as a sports medicine doctor outweigh the drawbacks, it's good to explore the pros and cons before deciding this is the right career choice.

Pros of a Career in Sports Medicine
High salary (sports medicine physicians earned a median salary of approximately $206,000 as of 2015)****
Positive job outlook (national employment of physicians was projected to grow 18% from 2012-2022)*
Career satisfaction (studies have shown that fellowship-trained sports medicine doctors are satisfied with their careers)**
Job flexibility (sports medicine doctors can work in a variety of professional settings and might even open practices for themselves)*

Cons of a Career in Sports Medicine
Many years of study required, which typically requires a large financial investment*
Irregular work schedule (many physicians are required to work long hours and be on-call at all times)*
Work hazards (sports medicine doctors may be exposed to individuals with infectious diseases)***
Licensure is required*

Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, **National Institutes of Health, ***American Medical Society for Sports Medicine, ****Salary.com

Career Information

Job Description and Duties

As a sports medicine doctor, you might lead a medical team that includes surgeons, athletic trainers, coaches, physical therapists and other staff. You also might offer nutritional, exercise and lifestyle advice to both athletes and non-athletes.

If you work as a team physician, you'll have responsibilities that are more specific to sports organizations, such as handling on-field injuries, coordinating athlete rehabilitation efforts and counseling athletes on a range of emotional issues. Whether you work with a sports team or not, you'll diagnose musculoskeletal conditions, administer treatments, track the healing progress of individual injuries and write prescriptions, among other tasks.

Job Prospects and Salary Info

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), national employment of all physicians and surgeons was projected to grow 18% from 2012-2022, which was faster than the average for all occupations (www.bls.gov). Expansion of the healthcare industry and an aging population were expected to contribute to this growth. Salary.com reported that the median salary of sports medicine doctors was around $206,000 in 2015.

Career Paths and Specializations

There are several paths to becoming a sports medicine doctor. Depending which path you choose, you'll be either a primary care physician or an orthopedic surgeon who specializes in treating ailments common to athletes. If you want to provide non-surgical care, you may become a family practice physician, emergency medical physician, pediatrician, internal medicine doctor or rehabilitation doctor before specializing in sports medicine.

Career Skills and Requirements

Aspiring sports medicine doctors need to complete a bachelor's degree program with courses in chemistry, biology and physics, followed by four years of medical school to earn a Doctor of Medicine (M.D.) or Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine (D.O.). These programs typically are comprised of courses in a variety of disciplines, such as endocrinology, anatomy, pharmacology and biochemistry. You'll also complete clinical rotations in a number of medical specialties, such as psychiatry, surgery, internal medicine and pediatrics.

Upon completion of your medical degree, you'll be required to undergo a hospital residency program in an appropriate specialty, such as family practice, pediatrics or orthopedic surgery. Depending on the specialty you choose, your residency may last anywhere from 3-5 years. You'll then need to complete a sports medicine fellowship, which lasts another two years. Optional board certification in your primary specialty is required if you want to sit for a subspecialty examination in sports medicine.

All states require physicians to earn a license before they can practice. In order to gain your license, you'll need to pass the U.S. Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE) or the Comprehensive Osteopathic Medical Licensing Examination (COMLEX).

Useful Skills

You'll need to rely on a number of hard and soft skills to successfully complete your professional tasks. These may include:

  • The ability to effectively communicate with other staff members, hospital administrators and patients
  • The ability to solve problems creatively and critically
  • The physical ability to lift and turn patients
  • The ability to empathize with sick and/or injured patients
  • The ability to pay careful attention to detail

Job Postings from Real Employers

An April 2012 job search showed several postings for sports medicine physicians. The amount and type of experience needed varied among employers. The following list summarizes several postings from that search:

  • An Arizona medical group advertised for a board-certified or board-eligible sports medicine physician who would work closely with the department of orthopedic surgery. Candidates should have received their specialty training in family or emergency medicine. The ad stated that this position did not require on-call duties.
  • A municipal medical care provider in Chicago advertised for a sports medicine physician to provide care for firefighters and police officers. The ideal candidate would have primary training in family or internal medicine and have earned a Certificate of Added Qualification (CAQ) in Sports Medicine. Some travel was required for this position.
  • A group physician practice in Washington advertised for a sports medicine physician who would provide medical care for the group's physically active patients. Duties included diagnosing, treating and preventing sports-related illnesses and injuries. The candidate should have been eligible for or have already obtained a CAQ in Sports Medicine.

How to Stand Out

One of the most effective ways you can stand out as a sports medicine doctor is by accumulating as much expertise and as many professional connections as you can. An efficient way to tackle both of these tasks at the same time is by joining professional associations. The American Medical Society for Sports Medicine (AMSSM) and the American Orthopaedic Society for Sports Medicine (AOSSM) offer physicians several opportunities to network with other doctors, hone their skills and expand their knowledge base. They offer continuing education opportunities, such as conferences, webcasts, self-assessments and online learning portals.

You may also consider earning board certification. Though voluntary, many patients and employers seek certified physicians. To qualify for a CAQ in Sports Medicine, you must first earn board certification from an American Osteopathic Association (AOA) specialty board, such as the American Osteopathic Board of Emergency Medicine or the American Osteopathic Board of Internal Medicine. You'll then need to pass an exam in sports medicine offered through the AOA Division of Certifying Board Services.

Other Careers to Consider

If you're don't want to undergo the lengthy requirements to become a sports medicine doctor, but want an occupation with similar functions and duties, you may think about becoming a chiropractor or podiatrist. Like sports medicine doctors, both chiropractors and podiatrists treat injuries and illnesses associated with the musculoskeletal system. Chiropractors, however, use manual manipulation to adjust a patient's spine and other joints. They believe that misalignments can cause a number of ailments. After you complete your undergraduate prerequisites, you'll complete four years of chiropractic school. You won't need to undergo additional residency and fellowship training, but you will need to become licensed. However, you may not earn as much; chiropractors made a median salary of $66,000 as of 2011, according to the BLS.

Podiatrists specialize in diagnosing, treating and helping to prevent injuries and illnesses of the lower leg and foot. They may perform surgery. Becoming a podiatrist requires more training than becoming a chiropractor and only slightly less than becoming a sports medicine doctor. After completing undergraduate requirements, you'll need to complete four years of podiatry school, followed by a 3-year medical and surgical residency. You'll also need to become licensed. If you want to specialize, you can enter a fellowship. Though this career requires nearly as much training, it doesn't pay as well as a career in sports medicine. The BLS reported that podiatrists earned a median annual wage of $119,000 in May 2011. However, a plus is that you won't have to choose between giving surgical or non-surgical treatments since podiatrists can do both.

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