Sports Medicine PhD Program Overviews

If you want to pursue an academic or professional career helping injured athletes return to top form, a doctoral degree in sports medicine may be right for you. Find out what you'll learn in one of these programs and get details on certification expectations and career outlook.

Essential Information

Sports medicine specialists see professional and recreational athletes. They use prevention methods, diagnostic tests and a variety of treatment options when working with clients and injuries. A sports medicine Ph.D. program helps students prepare for clinical and research careers. Many colleges and universities offer a competitive sports medicine Ph.D. program. Students can also choose to specialize in a particular field, such as biomechanics, physiology, or physical therapy. To apply to one of these programs, students need to have either a bachelor's or a master's degree, depending on the school, and submit GRE scores.

Ph.D. Programs in Sports Medicine

In most Ph.D. programs, students spend the bulk of their time assisting faculty with ongoing research. Over the course of the program, students attend research lab meetings, collect data, and prepare a doctoral dissertation, which can take a full year to complete. Common coursework includes:

  • Grant writing
  • Biostatistics
  • Exercise physiology
  • Pharmacology
  • Epidemiology
  • Anatomy

Employment Outlook and Salary Information

After finishing doctoral programs in sports medicine, students can pursue careers as athletic trainers or physical therapists. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (, athletic trainer employment from 2014 to 2024 is expected to grow 21%, which is much faster than the average for all occupations, most likely because of increased awareness of sports-related injuries in young people. According to the BLS, the median salary for athletic trainers was $44,670 in May 2015.

For physical therapists, employment from 2014 to 2024 is expected to increase 34%. This above-average number is due to an increase in the elderly population and a rise in new techniques and treatments in physical therapy practices. The median annual salary for physical therapists as of May 2015 was $84,020.

Professional Certification

Currently, 46 states require athletic trainers to be licensed or registered in order to practice, and they must be certified by the Board of Certification, Inc (BOC). The American College of Sports Medicine is a professional organization that offers certification to students after they complete doctoral degrees in sports medicine. The ACSM can also certify personal trainers and health fitness specialists. As of 2014, the ACSM has certified more than 25,000 people in 44 countries.

Overall, a doctoral degree in sports medicine provides students with the training they need for a professional or an academic research career in sports medicine.

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