Sports Medicine Careers: Job Description & Salary Info

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Learn about careers in sports medicine. Get job descriptions, salary information and education requirements. Get straight talk about the pros and cons of a sports medicine career.
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Pros and Cons of a Career in Sports Medicine

Professionals in the field of sports medicine work with athletes to address and prevent injuries or illnesses that may affect performance. The following is a list of pros and cons in various professions related to sports medicine.

Orthopedist Athletic Trainer Physical Therapist
Career Overview Treat patients with musculoskeletal conditions Help prevent and address issues related to bones and muscles under the supervision of physicians Help clients recover from injuries or ailments, improve mobility and decrease pain
Education Requirements Doctor of Medicine (MD) Bachelor's degree, though many hold master's degrees Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT)
Program Length Eight years, full-time, including the bachelor's Four years, full-time Seven years, full-time, including the bachelor's
Additional Training Five years of residency training N/A Optional 1-year residency
Certification and Licensing License required in all states License and/or certification required in 46 states License required in all states
Job Outlook for 2012-2022Faster-than-average growth (18% for all physicians and surgeons) compared to all occupations* Faster-than-average growth (19%) compared to all occupations* Much-faster-than-average growth (36%) compared to all occupations*
Median Salary About $439,000 (2015, for all orthopedic surgeons)** About $43,000 (2014)* About $82,000 (2014)*

Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, **Salary.com

Orthopedist

Doctors who work as team or sports physicians are usually orthopedists. Orthopedists, also called orthopedic surgeons, are doctors who treat patients with injuries and diseases of the muscles and bones. They help people manage bone fractures and breaks, joint issues and muscle injuries, as well as performing surgeries. In this career, you're likely to work in an office, clinic or hospital.

Requirements

To become an orthopedist, you'll need to earn a medical degree. Most doctors earn a bachelor's degree and pass the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT) before attending four years of medical school. Medical school consists of both classroom study and hands-on clinical rotations. Following medical school, you'll enter a residency program in orthopedics that generally lasts about five years. You must then pass the U.S. Medical Licensing Examination to become licensed to practice medicine. Overall, education for orthopedists can take up to 13 years.

In December 2012, employers of orthopedists advertised for the following:

  • In Michigan, a hospital sought a licensed orthopedic surgeon to manage trauma patients, perform reconstructive surgery and be on-call for orthopedic emergencies.
  • A Texas medical center advertised for a board-certified orthopedic surgeon specializing in sports medicine to treat patients and teach students. Candidates should have their own clinical practices, and they should be active in resident teaching and research.
  • In Wisconsin, an orthopedic surgeon with sports medicine training was needed to work with an athletic training staff. Applicants with training in hip arthroscopy were preferred.

Standing out

You can stand out as an orthopedist by becoming board certified in your specialty, which involves passage of an exam. To remain certified, you must participate in continuing education and demonstrate knowledge of changes within your specialty. Another way to stand out is to conduct and publish research papers. This can show employers that you are contributing to progress in your field.

Athletic Trainer

Athletic trainers help people prevent and deal with injuries and conditions related to muscles and bones. They work under the supervision of physicians to provide treatment. Common job duties include applying braces and bandages, providing first aid, helping athletes recover from injuries and performing administrative tasks. You may work at a school or university, fitness center or clinic. Since you need to be immediately available to patients and athletes, you may be required to work during evenings and weekends as well as travel and perform your job outdoors, regardless of weather.

Requirements

To become an athletic trainer you'll need a bachelor's degree. Some employers, such as universities, may require a master's degree. Athletic training bachelor's programs include both classroom and clinical instruction. Coursework covers clinical care, healthcare ethics, anatomy, physiology and pharmacology. Licensure for athletic trainers was required in 46 states as of 2012. You can become licensed by completing an educational program that is accredited by the Commission on Accreditation of Athletic Training Education (CAATE) and passing a state or Board of Certification (BOC) exam.

In December 2012, employers sought the following qualities in athletic trainers:

  • A high school in Ohio advertised for an athletic trainer to evaluate and manage injuries, attend team practices/games and work with coaches and physicians to maintain the health of students. Applicants need a bachelor's degree and a state athletic trainer's license, though no experience is required.
  • In New York, a health system sought an athletic trainer to work with local schools and attend events to help prevent injuries and provide first aid. Candidates needed board certification, licensure (or the ability to become licensed) and current CPR/AED credentials.
  • A New York college advertised for an assistant athletic trainer to manage supplies, monitor athletes' training, work with team physicians and provide exams for student athletes. Candidates needed a flexible schedule, current certification and state licensure.

Standing Out

You can stand out as an athletic trainer by earning certification and credentials beyond those that are required. If your state does not require athletic trainers to be certified, you can pass you BOC exam to stand out from the competition. You may also benefit from joining an industry association, such as the National Athletic Trainers' Association, to network within your field and show commitment to your profession.

Physical Therapist

Physical therapists work with patients who have been injured or experience pain due to illness. They help patients improve mobility, decrease discomfort and cope with their conditions using treatment plans, exercises, stretches, patient education and hands-on assistance. In this career, you will most likely work at a health care facility, such as a hospital or doctor's office. Job duties and treatment will vary from patient to patient. For example, an injured athlete will need different care than a patient suffering from arthritis pain.

Requirements

To become a physical therapist, you'll need a postgraduate degree. Most employers require a Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) degree, although master's programs are available. DPT programs generally take three years to complete following a bachelor's degree. Coursework covers anatomy and physiology, pharmacology, patient management and neuromuscular conditions. You'll also complete supervised clinical rotations that allow you to work in different facets of physical therapy. After completing your DPT program you must pass the National Physical Therapy Examination, or a comparable state exam, to become licensed.

In December 2012, some employers of physical therapists were looking for the following:

  • In Maryland, an outpatient facility sought a physical therapist to provide land and aquatic therapy for a diverse population of patients. Applicants needed strong interpersonal skills and a license to practice physical therapy.
  • In Washington, a physical therapist was needed to assist individuals with mental and physical disabilities, work with other physicians to treat patients and promote health and fitness. Current CPR certification and state registration as a physical therapist was required.
  • A Florida physical rehab facility advertised for a licensed physical therapist to assist geriatric patients with strength and balance. Experience or interest in working with senior citizens was preferred.

Standing Out

As a physical therapist you can stand out by pursing a specialization. After completing your doctoral program, you may complete an optional residency to get hands-on experience in a specific setting, such as sports medicine, pediatrics or neurologic physical therapy. Such residency programs tend to last one year. You can also become board certified in a specialty by passing an exam. The American Board of Physical Therapy Specialties offers certification to qualified sports physical therapists.

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Georgetown University

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American University

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Full Sail University

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Grand Canyon University

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Northcentral University

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Colorado State University Global

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The George Washington University

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