Options in medicine: becoming a sports medicine specialist

November 17, 2014

Article by Global Pre-Meds
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Learning bandaging techniques You may have seen a doctor running out onto the football field when a player gets injured. But treating injured athletes is only part of the job of a sports medicine physician. Sports medicine doctors are trained to treat the muscular and skeletal injuries associated with sports injuries. They also address issues, such as sports psychology, substance abuse and nutrition.


Responsibilities of a sports medicine doctor

Sports medicine doctors care for professional athletes. But they also treat college, high school and amateur athletes. Responsibilities include performing a physical exam and reviewing diagnostic tests to assess a sports injury. They also develop treatment plans, which may include physical therapy.

In some cases, patients may require surgery to treat an injury or condition. Sports medicine doctors do not perform surgery unless they are also orthopedic surgeons. They will consult with surgeons and assess the patient to determine if a surgical procedure is needed.   

Doctors who specialize in sports medicine may also counsel patients on proper nutrition or injury prevention. Some sports medicine doctors specialize and work with specific populations, such as elite athletes.


Education and training needed

Becoming a sports medicine doctor requires a four-year premedical degree. Exercise physiology, sports medicine and kinesiology are good choices for undergrad majors. After graduating with a bachelor’s degree, four years of medical school is the next step.

Four years of med school consists of classroom lectures, science labs and clinical rotations in areas of medicine, such as internal medicine, psychology and surgery. After graduation, residency is next. Sports medicine is not currently a recognized medical residency. Doctors who are interested in the field, need to complete a residency in a specialty, such as emergency medicine, physical medicine and rehabilitation, internal medicine or pediatrics.

Depending on the specialty, residencies may be between three and five years. After completing a residency and becoming board certified, a sports medicine fellowship is also needed. Although it can vary, many sports medicine fellowships are one year in length.


Opportunities for sports medicine doctors 

Sports medicine specialists may work in rehabilitation centers and outpatient clinics, such as orthopedic centers. They may also be employed by high schools and university athletic departments. Some sports medicine doctors find employment with professional sports organizations or go into private practice. Opportunities also exist in research. According to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median salary for a sports medicine specialist is about $240,000 a year.


Advantages of working in sports medicine    

Sports medicine may be the perfect choice for some physicians. In other areas of medicine, doctors may treat patients who are very sick and have life-threatening conditions. Doctors who work in sports medicine have the opportunity to work with active patients and help them achieve their personal best, which can be rewarding. Some doctors work with professional athletes and sports teams, which may be exciting. Doctors may also have the opportunity to travel with the team, which is a nice perk. Sports medicine physicians often work in settings outside the hospital, which may be a good fit for some doctors.