Sports Doctor Training and Education Requirements

Sep 21, 2019

Learn about the education and preparation needed to become a sports doctor, more commonly known as a sports medicine physician. Get a quick view of the requirements as well as details about schooling, job duties, licensure and certification to find out if this is the career for you.

The sports medicine career field is considered lucrative, but comes with extensive educational requirements, including completion of medical school, a residency and a fellowship program. This education culminates in specific knowledge of injuries and conditions related to human movement, particularly with regard to athletes.

Essential Information

Sports medicine physicians are medical doctors who have completed residency training in medicine (internal, family, rehabilitative) or surgery (orthopedic or podiatry) plus a fellowship in sports medicine. The education process generally takes about 12 years following completion of high school. Sports medicine physicians diagnose and treat medical conditions and injuries, generally in athletes. They are often 'team physicians' for sports teams at various competitive levels, including high school, college and professional leagues.

Required Education Premed prerequisite college courses (4 years)
Medical or podiatry school (4 years)
Residency in applicable medicine or surgery (3-4 years)
Fellowship in sports medicine (1-2 years)
Licensure & Certification State medical license required
Board certification available
Other Requirements Continuing Medical Education (CME) credit to maintain license and board certification after residency
DEA registration to prescribe controlled substances
Projected Job Growth (2018-2028) For all physicians and surgeons: 7%*
Median Salary Info (2019) $181,446, annually**

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics; **

Sports Doctor Training

Training for Primary Care Sports Doctors

In addition to attending to musculoskeletal injuries, primary care sports doctors treat chronic illnesses, such as diabetes or asthma, as well as traumatic head injuries. They also recommend nutritional and conditioning strategies to maximize athletic performance. Training programs for primary care sports medicine physicians are available after doctors have completed their residency in a related area of medicine.

Specialized training is available through a yearlong program of postgraduate fellowship study in primary care sports medicine. This multifaceted training places fellows in a variety of sports medicine environments, such as high school and college training rooms, collegiate campus sports medicine clinics and sports events at all levels of competition. Fellows also take sports medicine courses that include sports psychology, sports nutrition, musculoskeletal imaging, emergency response, exercise physiology and orthopedics.

Combining coursework and field experience, fellows engage in research projects. They may present the results at professional conferences, which they attend throughout the year. On completion of the fellowship program, doctors are eligible to earn their Certificate of Added Qualifications in sports medicine by sitting for a rigorous examination. Having completed an accredited program and passing the exam, fellows have their specialist credentials endorsed by the American Board of Medical Specialties or the American Osteopathic Association Bureau of Osteopathic Specialists to become primary care sports medicine physicians.

Training for Orthopedic Surgeon Sports Doctors

Orthopedic sports medicine doctors specialize in performing surgical procedures to correct or alleviate sports-related injuries and conditions of the bones and joints. Sports medicine, primary care or orthopedic, is not recognized as a formal residency specialization, but rather a subspecialty pursued through a 12-24-month fellowship that provides significant experience in sports-related injuries and conditions. While orthopedic surgeons can perform these operations after completing their residency, a fellowship in orthopedic sports medicine is a generally preferred credential.

During the fellowship program, orthopedic sports doctors become experienced in a variety of surgical techniques for the bones and joints; however, some doctors choose to complete a fellowship program specializing in a specific joint, such as the knee. Similar to the primary care fellowship, the fellowship program for orthopedic sports doctors typically consists of four components: education, clinical care, athletic department support and research. Orthopedic sports doctors are not required to sit for a qualification exam as are primary care sports doctors.

Sports Doctor Education Requirements

Before becoming eligible to engage in a sports medicine fellowship, primary care and orthopedic sports doctors must earn prior degrees. An initial step to becoming a doctor of medicine, M.D., is earning a bachelor's degree. Applicants to medical school complete diverse undergraduate degrees, but they must meet the science-intensive prerequisites of medical schools and pass the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT).

In addition, applicants to sports medicine fellowship programs have completed medical school and a residency. Over the course of four years, medical school exposes aspiring doctors to most types of medical practice and provides a foundation of medical knowledge. Most graduates from medical school go on to do a residency, 3-6 years of additional training in which doctors pursue a specialty.

In fellowships, doctors pursue a sub-specialty related to their residency studies. Primary care sports doctors typically complete a residency in physical medicine and rehabilitation family practice, emergency medicine, pediatrics or internal medicine. Orthopedic surgeons complete their residency, typically lasting five years, in orthopedic surgery. Additionally, throughout their careers, sports medicine physicians take continuing education courses in sports medicine as members of professional associations.

Salary Outlook and Career Information

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, BLS, (, the field of physicians and surgeons as a whole will increase as fast as the average between 2018 and 2028. According to, as of September 2019, the salaries for sports medicine physicians specifically ranged from $58,000 to $242,000 per year.

In order to become a sports medicine physician, you must earn a medical degree, complete a residency program and complete a fellowship specific to sports medicine. Sports medicine physicians can be trained as orthopedic surgeons or in primary care and work with athletes to alleviate sports-related injuries and disorders.

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