Sports medicine physicians work with athletes and sports teams at all levels to help heal athletic injuries. These physicians are specialized in either surgical or non-surgical procedures. In order to become sports medicine physicians, candidates must complete medical school, earn a license, complete a residency and fellowship, and earn board certification in sports medicine.
Becoming a sports medicine physician requires obtaining a bachelor's degree and a Doctor of Medicine (M.D.) degree. During their undergraduate years, students will need to take pre-med classes in biology, anatomy and chemistry. Medical school is a 4-year program in which the last two years include clinical rotations.
Typically, sports medicine physicians have primary specialization in either orthopedic surgery or primary care with subspecialty in sports medicine. During the clinical rotations, students can take electives in one of these specialty areas. Following the completion of medical school, graduates enter into residency programs. No residency programs exist that allow for specialization in sports medicine, but rotations can include sports medicine procedures.
Residency programs begin the in-depth primary specialty training. During this time, a resident can begin to focus on surgical or non-surgical areas. After completing a residency, a physician can apply for a sports medicine fellowship program, which is typically one year in length.
Orthopedic surgeon fellows in sports medicine receive focused training on surgical techniques relating to sports injuries, such as knee or shoulder reconstruction. Many orthopedic sports medicine fellowships include research opportunities coupled with extensive clinical care.
Primary care sports medicine fellowships are open to physicians who have completed residencies in emergency medicine, pediatrics, internal medicine or family practice medicine. This fellowship focuses on evaluating and treating orthopedic sports injuries by learning orthopedic rehabilitation procedures. Primary care sports medicine fellows work with various levels of team sports and practice the duties of an attending sports medicine physician. Much like surgical fellowships, primary care sports medicine physicians have the opportunity to develop research skills.
Physicians with subspecialties in sports medicine can pursue the Certificate of Added Qualifications in Sports Medicine. Primary care sports medicine physicians must also be board certified in family medicine, pediatrics or internal medicine. Surgical sports medicine physicians are also eligible for board certification in sports medicine and typically hold Board Certified Orthopedic Surgeon designations.
Employment Outlook and Salary Information
Salary.com reported in 2016 that sports medicine physicians earned a median salary of $212,584. Most sports medicine physicians earned from $181,457 to $270,409 at that time. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics predicted faster-than-average 14% employment growth for physicians and surgeons in general from 2014-2024.