The sports medicine field offers a wide range of careers for students studying at the bachelor's, master's or doctoral degree levels. Educational programs similar to sports medicine may be called exercise science and athletic training.
Sports medicine degrees take between two and four years and may offer opportunities for specialization. Students may choose to concentrate on different focus areas such as strength and conditioning or sport management. Programs may be available online or partially online as well as on campus.
Bachelor's Degree in Sports Medicine
Students who earn a bachelor's degree in sports medicine can prepare for several types of careers in allied healthcare. Graduates provide guidance, preventative care and rehabilitation services to physically active individuals. Some private and public universities and colleges offer bachelor's degrees in sports medicine or related subjects, such as exercise science or athletic training.
Gaining entry into a college or university generally requires a high school diploma or its equivalent. Admission into a sports medicine bachelor's degree program usually has additional requirements that vary for each program. Completing specific courses, being certified in first aid and cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) and spending a certain number of hours observing a certified athletic trainer in a professional setting are required for admission by some programs.
Students in sports medicine bachelor's degree programs receive classroom instruction in addition to practical experience through internships. Some schools also provide students with hands-on training through assistance at campus health and wellness centers or within the athletic department. Common class topics include:
- Health and exercise science
- Weight training techniques
- Exercise physiology
- Sport psychology
- Therapeutic modalities
Master's Degree in Sports Medicine
Master's degrees are necessary for many sports medicine careers. The degree is typically offered as a Master of Science and takes two years to complete. Students can gain thorough sports medicine knowledge while conducting and critiquing research. Some programs allow students to select specialties within the sports medicine field, such as strength conditioning and athletic training.
A bachelor's degree is usually required for entrance into a master's degree program. Students with a bachelor's degree unrelated to sports medicine may need to take specific courses before gaining entry.
Students in sports medicine master's degree programs receive classroom instruction, participate in research projects and obtain practical training. Qualified students could acquire graduate assistantship positions that afford them the opportunity to learn and practice athletic training and rehabilitation services on campus. Common coursework includes the following:
- Strength and conditioning theories and methods
- Human movement and injury prevention
- Musculoskeletal injury
- Biostatistics and biomechanics
- Advanced exercise physiology
Doctoral Degree in Sports Medicine
Students interested in working in research or teaching at the university level can pursue their education further by enrolling in a doctoral program. The curriculum is often focused on research, and students typically choose an area within sports medicine in which to specialize, such as biomechanics, exercise nutrition or sport management. The program usually takes four years of full-time study to complete.
Each program sets its own admission requirements; however, requiring a master's degree or specific undergraduate studies in exercise science or sports medicine is common for admission into a doctoral program. Preference could also be given to applicants who are certified athletic trainers or physical therapists.
In addition to classroom instruction, doctoral students often receive laboratory training where they conduct research projects at campus labs. They might attend regular seminars and have opportunities to acquire research assistantship positions. Some possible class and research topics include:
- Clinical biomechanics
- Sports medicine laboratory techniques
- Athlete eating disorders
- Multivariate statistics
- Epidemiological methods
- Athletic injury care
Popular Career Options
Typically, bachelor's degree programs in sports medicine are pre-professional options that prepare students for graduate programs. Most job opportunities in the field require that candidates to have at least a master's degree. However, some entry-level careers may be available to bachelor's degree holders, such as:
- Physical education teacher
- Personal trainer
- Fitness instructor
Employment Outlook and Salary
An athletic trainer position is one of the career options for graduates of sports medicine master's degree programs. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), athletic training positions are expected to increase 21% from 2014-2024 (www.bls.gov). Many athletic trainers work for colleges, universities and professional schools.
In May 2015, athletic trainers earned an average annual salary of $46,940, according to the BLS. Some employers with the highest employment levels were college, universities, and professional schools, offices of health practitioners, and general medical and surgical hospitals.
The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) offers certification for sports medicine professionals. Voluntary credentials help to validate a professional's education and expertise. Some of the certifications offered by ACSM include the Certified Personal Trainer, Certified Group Exercise Instructor and Certified Health Fitness Specialist.
Nearly all states require athletic trainers to obtain a state license and certification from the Board of Certification, Inc. If licensure or certification isn't required, athletic trainers can still earn voluntary board certification or get certified through other professional credentialing organizations, such as the National Academy of Sports Medicine or the American College of Sports Medicine. Master's degree holders can qualify to earn ACSM's Registered Clinical Exercise Physiologist certification.
Students have the option of a bachelor's, master's, or doctoral degree in sports medicine, all of which provide students with hands-on training in addition to classroom courses. Undergraduate students may see courses like kinesiology, exercise physiology, and sport psychology, while graduate course topics include human movement and injury prevention, biostatistics and biomechanics, and epidemiological methods to name a few.