How to Become an Orthopedic Surgeon: Step-by-Step Career Guide

Jan 02, 2019

In this video, you'll find out how to become an orthopedic surgeon. Learn about the education and licensing requirements for starting a career as an orthopedic surgeon.

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  • 0:01 Becoming an Orthopedic Surgeon
  • 1:07 Education
  • 2:08 Licensing & Residency

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Becoming an Orthopedic Surgeon

Orthopedic surgeons operate on patients who are living with musculoskeletal problems related to trauma, accidents, sports injuries, and various types of disorders. In addition to performing surgery, these specialists may perform physical examinations, review charts, and conduct follow-up visits. Standing for many hours while working is often required, and readiness to operate on an emergency basis is sometimes needed. Surgeons are under great pressure in the operating room, and they must be able to remain calm and focused.

Career Requirements

Degree Level Professional doctoral
Degree Name Medical Degree (M.D.)
Licensure/Certification Medical doctors must earn licensure by the state; specialty certification is available
Experience An orthopedic residency is required
Key Skills Orthopedic surgeons must have excellent manual dexterity; physical stamina; strong communication and organizational skills
Median Salary (2016) $310,323,440 (entry-level orthopedic surgeons)*

Sources: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), O*Net Online, *


The first step to becoming an orthopedic surgeon is to earn a bachelor's degree. While you can major in anything you like, your undergraduate coursework should include topics in biology, chemistry, anatomy, physiology and physics. These courses can help you prepare for the Medical College Admissions Test (MCAT), a standardized examination that tests an applicant's knowledge of the physical and biological sciences, verbal reasoning and writing abilities, and critical thinking skills.

Success Tip

Admission to medical school is highly competitive. Undergraduate volunteer experience at a clinic or a hospital may help your application stand out.

Medical school takes four years to complete. The first two years of the program are spent in classrooms and laboratories, where you'll study anatomy, medical ethics and laws, pharmacology, and physiology. During the final two years, you'll complete clinic and hospital rotations under the direction of experienced doctors. Rotations provide opportunities for gaining hands-on, real-life experience diagnosing and treating patients.

Licensing & Residency

After completing medical school, you'll have to pass the United States Medical Licensing Examination, a 3-part exam that ensures medical doctors understand the scientific principles necessary to practice medicine, as well as possess patient care skills and an ability to work in ambulatory settings.

Success Tip

Before taking the test, obtain some practice materials from the United States Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE) site, including practice tests and training materials that can help you prepare for the exam.

Once you've passed the exam, you'll complete a five-year orthopedic surgery residency program, which includes four years of training in orthopedic surgery and one year in internal or pediatric medicine, general surgery, or other broad area. Some residency programs include two years of general surgery and three years of orthopedic surgery. To be certified by the American Board of Orthopedic Surgery, you'll have to complete your orthopedic residency, practice for two years in the field, and pass oral and written exams. Six month to one-year fellowships are available in a a variety of specializations, including surgical repair of the ankle and foot, hand, shoulder, or spine; pediatric orthopedics; reconstructive surgery; or sports medicine.

Orthopedic surgeons operate on patients who are living with musculoskeletal problems related to accidents, injuries, and trauma. Career requirements include four years of medical school and a five year residency. Entry-level orthopedic surgeons earned a median annual salary of $310,323, according to in May 2016.

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