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Orthopedic Surgeon: Career Info & Requirements

Orthopedic surgeons require a significant amount of formal education. Learn about the education, job duties and licensure requirements to see if this is the right career for you.

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Essential Information

Orthopedic surgeons are medical doctors who specialize in treating the musculoskeletal system; they may specialize in areas such as sports medicine or hand surgery. The orthopedic surgery career path requires 8-9 years of post-baccalaureate education, along with continued maintenance of board certification.

Required EducationDoctor of Medicine (M.D.) degree and 4-5 year residency in a hospital
Other RequirementsState medical license and board certification in orthopedic surgery
Projected Job Growth (2012-2022)*18% for all physicians and surgeons
Mean Salary (2013)*$233,150 for all surgeons

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Career Information

Orthopedic surgeons operate on patients with musculoskeletal problems, including arm, leg, neck, bone and tissue ailments. Orthopedic disorders and conditions may range from congenital deformities to musculoskeletal injuries, trauma and tumors. These surgeons perform operations on patients who are under general anesthesia. The field offers qualified individuals the chance to build lucrative careers in hospitals, academic medical centers or private practice environments.

Career and Earnings Outlook

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) forecasted 18% growth for physicians and surgeons from 2012-2022, particularly in rural areas of the U.S. where there is a low ratio of physicians to the population ( The BLS reports that surgeons made an average salary of $233,150 annually as of May 2013. Because orthopedic surgery is a popular area of specialty, jobs may be more competitive in traditional environments, such as hospitals and health centers.

Career Requirements

After completing a 4-year bachelor's degree program in biology, pre-medicine or a related field, aspiring orthopedic surgeons must complete four additional years of medical school, followed by a 4- to 5-year orthopedic surgery residency in a hospital. The first year of residency usually covers general surgery, with the remaining years devoted to orthopedic-specific training. Surgeons wishing to specialize further in subspecialties, such as orthopedic sports medicine or pediatric orthopedics, must also complete a 1- to 2-year fellowship after their residency.

Required Licensing and Certification

Like all doctors, orthopedic surgeons must pass the U.S. Medical Licensing Examination to legally practice ( This exam can be taken in several parts, usually while students are still involved in their residencies. After completing their residencies, orthopedic surgeons must also pass an exam by the American Board of Orthopedic Surgery, a division of the American Board of Medical Specialties, in order to be certified in their area of surgery ( Recertification is required every 7-10 years.

Skills Required

Orthopedic surgeons must have a thorough understanding of current medical technologies, medical ethics, pharmacology and physiology. A particular aptitude for musculoskeletal health, disease prevention and treatment is essential.

An orthopedic surgery career also requires an ability to work long hours and make solid decisions under pressure. Orthopedic surgeons must stay abreast of new developments in the orthopedic surgery field.

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