How to Become a Sports Doctor

What Does a Sports Medicine Doctor Do?

sports medicine doctor doing knee exam

Beyond the personal and professional satisfaction of a career treating patients in both hospitals and clinics, sports medicine doctors also enjoy the opportunity of working for professional or college sports teams. In addition to enjoying the games from the sidelines, many of these physicians are even able to travel with the teams between venues. Not many careers boast such a varied professional landscape, but this variety is just one of the many appealing aspects of becoming a sports medicine physician.

Sports medicine doctors are medical professionals who focus on the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of injuries related to athletic activities. These physicians generally focus on joint, bone and muscle health, although they also offer more generalized medical care to their patients. Sports medicine prepares these physicians for work in both traditional hospital and clinic settings, in addition to sporting events at both the professional and college levels. No matter where they choose to work, sports medicine doctors enjoy the deep gratification of helping active, often health-conscious people recover from sports-related injuries and return to the lifestyles that they love.

Workplace Details

The field of sports medicine is relatively new, and continues to evolve. As with all physicians, sports medicine physicians can be found in varied clinical settings, from hospital-based practice to private outpatient clinics. In addition to working with athletic teams, these doctors can also hold positions in fitness centers, large gyms, and at large athletic events such as marathons. Some further specialize on particular groups of patients and their specific needs as they relate to sports medicine (e.g. - geriatric populations or school-age children).

Salary and Job Outlook

State
Average Wage
New York
$177330
California
$201790
Florida
$219010
Texas
$207750
Pennsylvania
$197250

Hover over any state to explore local income and job growth data.

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ALABAMA
Median Salary: 
Over $187,200
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $117,100
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): Over $187,200

2014-2024 Job Growth: 21%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 220

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Birmingham$158,980Over $187,200Over $187,200
Huntsville$156,350Over $187,200Over $187,200

ALASKA
Median Salary: 
Over $187,200
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $53,300
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): Over $187,200

2014-2024 Job Growth: 17%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 10

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Anchorage$52,370$163,440Over $187,200

ARIZONA
Median Salary: 
Over $187,200
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $73,200
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): Over $187,200

2014-2024 Job Growth: 18%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 230

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Phoenix$60,600Over $187,200Over $187,200
Tuscon$129,080Over $187,200Over $187,200

ARKANSAS
Median Salary: 
Over $187,200
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $48,800
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): Over $187,200

2014-2024 Job Growth: 17%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 120

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Little Rock$46,260$78,120Over $187,200
Fort Smith$85,250Over $187,200Over $187,200

CALIFORNIA
Median Salary: 
Over $187,200
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $58,800
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): Over $187,200

2014-2024 Job Growth: 20%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 1,120

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Los Angeles$87,480Over $187,200Over $187,200
San Francisco Bay$59,510Over $187,200Over $187,200
San Diego$98,080Over $187,200Over $187,200
Sacramento$129,880Over $187,200Over $187,200

COLORADO
Median Salary: 
Over $187,200
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $101,500
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): Over $187,200

2014-2024 Job Growth: 25%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 130

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Denver$97,350Over $187,200Over $187,200
Colorado Springs$96,310Over $187,200Over $187,200

CONNECTICUT
Median Salary: 
Over $187,200
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $59,300
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): Over $187,200

2014-2024 Job Growth: 12%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 270

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Hartford$55,840Over $187,200Over $187,200
Bridgeport$59,120Over $187,200Over $187,200
New Haven$71,070Over $187,200Over $187,200

DELAWARE
Median Salary: 
Over $187,200
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $58,100
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): Over $187,200

2014-2024 Job Growth: 13%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 60

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Wilmington$56,810Over $187,200Over $187,200
Dover$95,220Over $187,200Over $187,200

DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA
Median Salary: 
$168,600
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $56,500
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): Over $187,200

2014-2024 Job Growth: 8%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 80

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Washington DC$70,350$174,880Over $187,200

FLORIDA
Median Salary: 
Over $187,200
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $49,600
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): Over $187,200

2014-2024 Job Growth: 28%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 1,030

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Miami$53,920Over $187,200Over $187,200
Orlando$130,920Over $187,200Over $187,200
Tampa$47,580Over $187,200Over $187,200
Jacksonville$43,140$124,870Over $187,200

GEORGIA
Median Salary: 
Over $187,200
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $92,600
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): Over $187,200

2014-2024 Job Growth: 33%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 770

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Atlanta$140,960Over $187,200Over $187,200
Augusta$45,100$88,300Over $187,200

HAWAII
Median Salary: 
Over $187,200
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $76,800
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): Over $187,200

2014-2024 Job Growth: 6%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 40

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Honolulu$67,970Over $187,200Over $187,200

IDAHO
Median Salary: 
Over $187,200
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $92,600
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): Over $187,200

Job Growth Data Not Available

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Boise$62,640Over $187,200Over $187,200
Idaho Falls$118,280Over $187,200Over $187,200

ILLINOIS
Median Salary: 
Over $187,200
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $52,900
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): Over $187,200

2014-2024 Job Growth: 9%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 570

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Chicago$50,030$177,170Over $187,200
Rockford$61,820$174,500Over $187,200

INDIANA
Median Salary: 
Over $187,200
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $112,300
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): Over $187,200

2014-2024 Job Growth: 19%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 420

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Indianapolis$95,880Over $187,200Over $187,200
South Bend$68,610Over $187,200Over $187,200
Fort Wayne$132,920Over $187,200Over $187,200

IOWA
Median Salary: 
Over $187,200
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $101,000
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): Over $187,200

2014-2024 Job Growth: 13%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 100

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Des Moines$69,780Over $187,200Over $187,200
Cedar Rapids$115,170$181,940Over $187,200

KANSAS
Median Salary: 
Over $187,200
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $46,800
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): Over $187,200

2014-2024 Job Growth: 10%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 140

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Wichita$146,690Over $187,200Over $187,200
Kansas City$45,950Over $187,200Over $187,200

KENTUCKY
Median Salary: 
$183,200
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $52,400
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): Over $187,200

2014-2024 Job Growth: 23%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 270

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Louisville$54,790$131,970Over $187,200

LOUISIANA
Median Salary: 
Over $187,200
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $103,300
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): Over $187,200

2014-2024 Job Growth: 10%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 210

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
New Orleans$135,540$185,360Over $187,200
Baton Rouge$157,080Over $187,200Over $187,200
Lafayette$85,520$121,150Over $187,200

MAINE
Median Salary: 
Over $187,200
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $58,700
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): Over $187,200

2014-2024 Job Growth: 9%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 90

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Portland$54,360Over $187,200Over $187,200
Lewiston$166,570Over $187,200Over $187,200

MARYLAND
Median Salary: 
$173,300
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $83,400
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): Over $187,200

2014-2024 Job Growth: 14%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 430

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Baltimore$60,040Over $187,200Over $187,200
Frederick$84,080$132,830Over $187,200

MASSACHUSETTS
Median Salary: 
$169,900
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $55,800
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): Over $187,200

2014-2024 Job Growth: 7%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 370

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Boston$54,360$79,440Over $187,200
Worcester$54,050$178,540Over $187,200
Springfield$55,170$155,220Over $187,200

MICHIGAN
Median Salary: 
$176,800
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $52,700
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): Over $187,200

2014-2024 Job Growth: 8%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 440

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Detroit$48,730$162,580Over $187,200
Grand Rapids$109,540Over $187,200Over $187,200

MINNESOTA
Median Salary: 
Over $187,200
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $137,800
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): Over $187,200

2014-2024 Job Growth: 14%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 160

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Minneapolis - St. Paul$134,390Over $187,200Over $187,200
Rochester$104,470Over $187,200Over $187,200

MISSISSIPPI
Median Salary: 
Over $187,200
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $44,600
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): Over $187,200

2014-2024 Job Growth: 12%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 80

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Gulfport$85,890Over $187,200Over $187,200

MISSOURI
Median Salary: 
Over $187,200
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $82,100
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): Over $187,200

2014-2024 Job Growth: 10%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 140

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
St. Louis$83,530Over $187,200Over $187,200
Kansas City$45,950Over $187,200Over $187,200

MONTANA
Median Salary: 
Over $187,200
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $136,200
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): Over $187,200

2014-2024 Job Growth: 14%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 50

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Billings$177,170Over $187,200Over $187,200
Missoula$117,150Over $187,200Over $187,200

NEBRASKA
Median Salary: 
$133,500
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $53,800
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): Over $187,200

2014-2024 Job Growth: 12%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 70

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Omaha$53,470$86,890Over $187,200
Lincoln$83,520Over $187,200Over $187,200

NEVADA
Median Salary: 
Over $187,200
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $57,600
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): Over $187,200

2014-2024 Job Growth: 26%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 70

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Las Vegas$52,710Over $187,200Over $187,200
Reno$69,870Over $187,200Over $187,200

NEW HAMPSHIRE
Median Salary: 
Over $187,200
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $158,000
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): Over $187,200

2014-2024 Job Growth: 17%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 90

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Manchester$158,400Over $187,200Over $187,200
NashuaOver $187,200Over $187,200Over $187,200

NEW JERSEY
Median Salary: 
Over $187,200
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $56,000
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): Over $187,200

2014-2024 Job Growth: 11%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 580

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Newark$54,470$178,330Over $187,200
Trenton$56,120$186,780Over $187,200

NEW MEXICO
Median Salary: 
Over $187,200
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $86,200
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): Over $187,200

2014-2024 Job Growth: 14%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 70

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Albuquerque$49,620Over $187,200Over $187,200
Las Cruces$28,800Over $187,200Over $187,200

NEW YORK
Median Salary: 
$170,300
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $60,400
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): Over $187,200

2014-2024 Job Growth: 13%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 1,880

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
New York City$59,850$161,480Over $187,200
Buffalo$46,140Over $187,200Over $187,200
Rochester$52,630$133,470Over $187,200
Albany$54,820$170,340Over $187,200

NORTH CAROLINA
Median Salary: 
Over $187,200
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $56,800
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): Over $187,200

2014-2024 Job Growth: 20%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 530

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Charlotte$113,770Over $187,200Over $187,200
Raleigh$149,440Over $187,200Over $187,200
Greensboro$185,510Over $187,200Over $187,200
Winston - Salem$92,590Over $187,200Over $187,200

NORTH DAKOTA
Median Salary: 
Over $187,200
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $92,800
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): Over $187,200

2014-2024 Job Growth: 16%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 20

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Fargo$151,250Over $187,200Over $187,200
Bismarck$186,030Over $187,200Over $187,200

OHIO
Median Salary: 
Over $187,200
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $54,700
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): Over $187,200

2014-2024 Job Growth: 15%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 710

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Cleveland$55,700Over $187,200Over $187,200
Columbus$59,120Over $187,200Over $187,200
Cincinnati$53,100$170,420Over $187,200
Dayton$50,780Over $187,200Over $187,200

OKLAHOMA
Median Salary: 
Over $187,200
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $48,900
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): Over $187,200

2014-2024 Job Growth: 9%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 240

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Oklahoma City$46,130Over $187,200Over $187,200
Tulsa$48,410Over $187,200Over $187,200

OREGON
Median Salary: 
Over $187,200
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $56,200
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): Over $187,200

2014-2024 Job Growth: 16%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 280

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Portland$55,270Over $187,200Over $187,200
Salem$125,120Over $187,200Over $187,200

PENNSYLVANIA
Median Salary: 
Over $187,200
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $55,400
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): Over $187,200

2014-2024 Job Growth: 10%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 610

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Philadelphia$53,700$165,090Over $187,200
Pittsburgh$54,250Over $187,200Over $187,200
Harrisburg$56,210$175,570Over $187,200
Allentown$81,180Over $187,200Over $187,200

RHODE ISLAND
Median Salary: 
$168,000
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $54,800
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): Over $187,200

2014-2024 Job Growth: 3%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 90

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Providence$55,280$170,620Over $187,200

SOUTH CAROLINA
Median Salary: 
Over $187,200
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $57,200
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): Over $187,200

2014-2024 Job Growth: 9%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 90

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Greenville$53,320$63,470Over $187,200
Columbia$69,390Over $187,200Over $187,200
Charleston$59,970Over $187,200Over $187,200

SOUTH DAKOTA
Median Salary: 
Over $187,200
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $175,500
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): Over $187,200

2014-2024 Job Growth: 4%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 10

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Sioux Falls$172,530Over $187,200Over $187,200
Rapid City$184,970Over $187,200Over $187,200

TENNESSEE
Median Salary: 
Over $187,200
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $130,100
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): Over $187,200

2014-2024 Job Growth: 24%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 340

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Nashville$124,530Over $187,200Over $187,200
Memphis$118,010Over $187,200Over $187,200
Knoxville$133,270Over $187,200Over $187,200
Chattanooga$113,250Over $187,200Over $187,200

TEXAS
Median Salary: 
Over $187,200
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $56,900
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): Over $187,200

2014-2024 Job Growth: 30%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 1,210

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Dallas - Ft. Worth$54,600Over $187,200Over $187,200
Houston$60,090$176,240Over $187,200
San Antonio$48,060$185,970Over $187,200
Austin$172,750Over $187,200Over $187,200

UTAH
Median Salary: 
Over $187,200
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $78,900
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): Over $187,200

2014-2024 Job Growth: 23%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 80

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Ogden$54,650Over $187,200Over $187,200

VERMONT
Median Salary: 
Over $187,200
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $62,900
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): Over $187,200

2014-2024 Job Growth: 11%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 20

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Burlington$56,160$157,280Over $187,200

VIRGINIA
Median Salary: 
Over $187,200
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $58,400
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): Over $187,200

2014-2024 Job Growth: 21%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 360

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Virginia Beach$56,320Over $187,200Over $187,200
Richmond$144,930Over $187,200Over $187,200

WASHINGTON
Median Salary: 
Over $187,200
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $120,000
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): Over $187,200

2014-2024 Job Growth: 15%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 240

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Seattle$108,630Over $187,200Over $187,200
Spokane$141,830Over $187,200Over $187,200

WEST VIRGINIA
Median Salary: 
Over $187,200
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $65,500
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): Over $187,200

2014-2024 Job Growth: 5%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 90

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Huntington$118,980Over $187,200Over $187,200
Charleston$54,170Over $187,200Over $187,200

WISCONSIN
Median Salary: 
Over $187,200
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $59,900
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): Over $187,200

2014-2024 Job Growth: 6%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 200

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Milwaukee$149,240Over $187,200Over $187,200
Madison$53,940Over $187,200Over $187,200

WYOMING
Median Salary: 
Over $187,200
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $166,400
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): Over $187,200

2014-2024 Job Growth: 16%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 20

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Cheyenne$168,640Over $187,200Over $187,200
CasperOver $187,200Over $187,200Over $187,200

The BLS currently states that the mean salary for physicians broadly is $197,700. Additionally, Salary.com reports that the median salary for sports medicine physicians as of February 2017 is $216,706, with the top ten percent of earners making over $329,317.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, job growth for physicians, in general, is projected to be 14% from the years of 2014 to 2024. This faster-than-average growth provides a positive outlook for physicians, with sports medicine physicians becoming increasingly in demand as the population continues to discover the important health benefits of lifelong physical activity.

Compare Salaries by City

New York City NY Median Pay

$161480 Per Year

$77.63 Per Hour

Chicago IL Median Pay

$177170 Per Year

$85.17 Per Hour

Steps to Become a Sports Medicine Doctor

1

Attend college or university to earn your bachelor's degree.

Students interested in become a physician must first complete a bachelor’s degree with a pre-med concentration that provides them with a solid foundation in biology, general chemistry, organic chemistry and physics. Gaining admission into medical school can be competitive, so students must complete the aforementioned courses and obtain excellent grades to be considered a viable applicant to medical schools.

Show Me Schools »

2

Pass the MCAT during junior year.

Beyond this coursework, students will also be required to perform well on the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT) in order to secure a spot in medical school. While those interested in sports medicine are usually sports aficionados themselves (and therefore may take part in organized sports), this is in no way a requirement for admission into medical school or sports medicine.

3

Attend medical school to earn your doctorate.

Many students apply for med school just before senior year of undergraduate education, though it’s not uncommon for people to take a year off between college and med school either.

Most sports medicine doctors complete a Doctor of Medicine (MD) degree or a Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine (DO) degree. These programs both involve four years of academic coursework in biology, biochemistry, anatomy, pathology, psychology, physiology, medical ethics and pharmacology.

4

Take the first two parts of the USMLE.

During medical school, students take parts one and two of the United States Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE). Part one will be administered prior to their third year of medical school, while part two happens in the fourth year.

5

Apply for residency.

Also during their final year of med school, students apply for residency based on their choice of specialty.

6

Complete a clinical residency.

Following the completion of medical school, students are awarded their respective degree (MD or DO). Next, the new physicians must go on to complete a clinical residency, which provides them with several years of hands-on practice in a variety of clinical settings under the supervision of fully trained, attending physicians. Three-year clinical residencies in internal medicine, family medicine, or emergency medicine (or a four-year residency in physical medicine and rehabilitation) all offer suitable training for an aspiring sports medicine physician. Other, more surgically inclined students may instead opt for a five-year residency in orthopedic surgery. During residency, it may be possible to secure an elective rotation in sports medicine to gain early exposure.

7

Pass the final part of the USMLE.

Part three of the USMLE happens at the very end of residency. Students need to pass this exam in order to practice medicine in the United States.

8

Get certification by completing a fellowship.

Since sports medicine is a subspecialty, doctors must get a certification of added qualification (CAQ) in sports medicine. To prepare for this, doctors complete a two-year fellowship in sports medicine at a hospital, rehabilitation facility or university athletic department. (Orthopedic surgeons can also apply for fellowships in this field, but added qualification certification is not required.)

9

Get licensed in your state.

All states require medical doctors to be licensed, so sports medicine doctors must check with their state’s licensing board for specific requirements.

10

Explore opportunities for career advancement.

Sports medicine doctors can establish their own practices or join existing groups with the ultimate aim of becoming a partner. Alternatively, a position in larger hospitals also provides the sports doctor with opportunities for advancement, depending on experience and continuing education. For example, after several years of productive performance, staff physicians may take on supervisory or management roles, potentially becoming head of a department.

Exploring the Academic Path

Sports medicine is a subspecialty. That means that after medical school, you’ll need to complete two periods of supervised training. The first, called residency, will be in a primary specialty like internal medicine or orthopedic surgery. After that, you’ll complete an additional year of training (fellowship) focused on sports medicine.

Earning a medical degree, plus residency and fellowship requirements, will require about 12-14 years. That’s a lot of steps to remember, so let’s back up and start at high school graduation.

BACHELOR'S DEGREE

4 years

As an aspiring physician, obtaining a four-year college degree will be your first step. You can major in any subject, but remember that med schools require certain classes (prerequisites) for admission. These usually include a year each of biology, general chemistry, organic chemistry, and English.

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Some subjects you’ll no doubt encounter as a pre-med:

Biology with lab

A yearlong sequence of classes that covers subjects like cell structure and function, genetics, basic biochemistry, evolution, and ecology.

General chemistry with lab

Study reactions between different types of compounds, including equilibrium, atomic and molecular structure, gases, and the effects of heat and electricity.

Organic chemistry with lab

Apply the principles of chemistry to organic (carbon containing) compounds, which are the building blocks of living things.

Physics with lab

Learn how principles like motion, energy, momentum, electricity, and magnetism shape the universe around us.

When choosing a four-year college, ask about medical school acceptance rates. Many schools have pre-medicine programs to help guide students through the medical school admissions process.

After college graduation, your next step will be medical school. You can apply to enter right after college. Or you can take some time to work, volunteer, take additional classes, conduct research, or travel. These activities may be helpful if you need to strengthen your application.

MEDICAL SCHOOL

4 years

The first two years of med school are all about classroom and hands-on learning. It’s a bit like college that way, but more intense. Here are a few classes you’ll probably find in your schedule:

Molecular and human genetics

Covers topics like gene biology and chemistry, genetic diseases, genetic testing, and pharmacogenetics.

Sexual development and reproduction

Explore human sexuality across the lifespan as well as the process of fertilization and stages of early embryonic development.

Physical diagnosis

Introduces techniques for examining patients and formulating and testing diagnoses.

Neurology

Take a look at the structure and function of the brain, spinal cord, and nerves, plus how disease and injury affect this system. (This is often part of a series of classes, with one dedicated to each body system.)

Your second two years of medical school are taken up by clerkships, also known as clinical rotations. These are intended to familiarize you with core specialties like family medicine, emergency medicine, and surgery. During each rotation, you’ll present cases, round on patients, participate in scholarly activities, and practice your skills under supervision.

During your final year of medical school, you’ll have an opportunity to choose some of your rotations. This can be a good time to gain experience treating athletes and networking with the sports medicine community.

RESIDENCY

3-5 years

Residency is a period of supervised training focused on your chosen specialty. From this point, there are two pathways to becoming a sports medicine doctor:

Primary care sports medicine

Helps athletes boost performance, prevent injuries, and stay healthy. Requires a 3–4 year-residency in emergency medicine, family medicine, or internal medicine. (For a complete list, see additional credentials.)

Orthopedic surgery

Repairs sports-related injuries to the bones, tendons, ligaments, and cartilage. Requires a 5-year residency in orthopaedic surgery.

When choosing a residency, look for a specialty you enjoy and one that fits your skills and temperament. Residents rotate through a variety of settings, so look for a program that offers opportunities in sports medicine.

No matter which pathway you choose, stay focused. While your ultimate goal is to work with athletes, it’s very important to develop strong skills in your primary specialty. A firm foundation will help you compete for fellowships later.

Residents can strengthen their fellowship applications by teaching, conducting research, attending professional conferences, and networking with the sports medicine community.

FELLOWSHIP

2 years

This is where you really dive deep into the subspecialty of sports medicine. These two years expose doctors to different types of athletic-related injuries and methods of diagnosing and treating them. Additionally, the fellowship provides experience with orthopedic surgeries, rehabilitative techniques, brain trauma, nutrition, and performance psychology. As a fellow, you might conduct casting and splinting workshops for medical students, train college athletes in the weight room, or cover mass sporting events like marathons.

Many fellowships also have a research component. Fellows work toward publishing papers or presenting at professional conferences.

Keys to Success as a Sports Medicine Doctor

Necessary Skills and Qualities

Interpersonal skills

As with all physicians, specialists and non-specialists alike, sports medicine physicians must possess and demonstrate empathy, compassion and strong communication abilities.

Analytical skills and proficient problem-solving

These are essential in order to provide timely diagnosis and optimal clinical outcomes for patients.

Physical health

In addition, sports medicine physicians must also possess good dexterity, and stamina if they intend to perform physical therapy-related treatments.

Additional Credentials

Board certification in both your primary specialty and sports medicine is voluntary but has many advantages. Many employers and group practices favor it when hiring. If you’re a surgeon, you may need it to gain hospital privileges.

To become board-certified, you’ll need to obtain a medical license and pass a series of exams. Some specialties and subspecialties also have experience requirements.

There are three main credentialing organizations for physicians in the United States. For information on which are recognized in your area, check with your state board of medicine or board of osteopathic medicine:

The following is a list of primary specialties that have a sports medicine subspecialty. Organizations offering board certification for each pathway are listed in parentheses:

  • Orthopaedic surgery (ABMS)
  • Pediatrics (AOA, ABMS)
  • Physical medicine and rehabilitation (AOA, ABMS)
  • Emergency medicine (AOA, ABMS)
  • Family medicine (AOA, ABMS)
  • Internal medicine (AOA, ABMS)
  • Neuromusculoskeletal medicine and osteopathic manipulative medicine (AOA)
Andrew Colucci, MD

Dr. Andrew Colucci is a Clinical Instructor at Harvard Medical School and a physician at the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston, MA. He is a member of the Alpha Omega Alpha medical honor society, and a graduate from Boston University School of Medicine and Boston College. His professional interests are quite varied and include clinical research, medical education, healthcare economics, and health policy.

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