Schools for Aspiring Orthopedic Specialists: How to Choose

Orthopedic specialists are either medical doctors (MDs) or physician's assistants (PAs). Medical and physician's assistant programs are available at schools throughout the U.S.

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Students considering a career in orthopedics can become either medical doctors or physician's assistants. There are many schools in the United States that provide training for either job.

Top Orthopedic Schools

These are some of the top-ranked schools for orthopedic specialists:

College/University Location Institution Type Degrees Offered Doctoral Tuition (In-state, 2015-2016)*
University of California - San Francisco San Francisco, CA 4-Year, Public MD $32,751
Johns Hopkins University Baltimore, MD 4-Year, Private MD $48,750
University of Pennsylvania Philadelphia, PA 4-Year, Public MD $52,210
University of Washington Seattle, WA 4-Year, Public MD, PA $33,519
University of California - Los Angeles Los Angeles, CA 4-Year, Public MD $31,731
University of Michigan - Ann Arbor Ann Arbor, MI 4-Year, Public MD $32,428
University of North Carolina - Chapel Hill Chapel Hill, NC 4-Year, Public MD, PA $21,837
University of Pittsburgh Pittsburgh, PA 4-Year, Public MD, PA $50,010
University of Chicago Chicago, IL 4-Year, Public MD $49,581

Source: *U.S. News and World Report

School Selection Criteria

Students may want to keep these considerations in mind when choosing between schools:

  • If you want to become an orthopedic surgeon, look for programs that prepare students for the certification exam offered by the American Board of Orthopedic Surgery.
  • If you want to become a physician's assistant, make sure that the school provides adequate preparation for the national exam that you must pass before entering the workforce.
  • Consider the strength of the school's residency program to make sure that you will get comprehensive clinical training if you enroll.

Doctor of Medicine

Prerequisites for MD programs include general science courses, such as biology and chemistry. Medical students do not usually select a specialty field until close to the end of their program. The first two years of medical school are pre-clinical, meaning that most of the time is spent inside a classroom, where all students take the same courses, regardless of their concentration. These courses are generally in specific topics relating to the study of the human body. The last two years involve lab work and clinical rotations.

Master of Science in Physician Assistant Studies

Several physician's assistant (PA) programs offer elective courses in orthopedic medicine and patient care. In addition, there are a couple of residency programs available to physician's assistant trainees. Students who wish to become PAs specializing in orthopedic care should graduate from an accredited PA program and gain work experience in their field of interest. PA programs are usually 24-26 months long and involve extensive classroom time and hands-on practicums in different areas of medicine, including orthopedics. At the end of a PA program, graduates must pass a national physician's assistant exam to become licensed.

Aspiring orthopedic specialists can choose to become MDs or PAs, both of which involve extensive hands-on and clinical training. Students can maximize their chance for career success by choosing a well-respected program that offers comprehensive training.

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