Becoming a Sports Medicine Physician: Schooling & Degree Requirements

Jan 07, 2021

Learn about sports medicine physician schooling and the requirements to become a doctor who treats the common injuries faced by athletes to find out if this is the career for you.

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What Is a Sports Medicine Physician?

Sports medicine physicians work with athletes and sports teams at all levels to help heal athletic injuries. These physicians are specialized in either surgical or non-surgical procedures. In some cases, they are present during sports matches, while in other cases they work in much the same way as other doctors but simply have a specialized set of clients and injuries that they usually treat.

Degree Level Doctor of Medicine (M.D.) degree
Degree Field(s) Medicine
License/Certification Licensure required in all states; certifications available
Experience Residency followed by sports medicine fellowship (usually 1 year)
Key Skills Empathy and patience; attention to detail, communications skills
Job Outlook (2019-2029)* 4% growth
Median Annual Salary (2019)** $232,181

*Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, **Salary.com

How Do You Become a Sports Medicine Doctor?

In order to become sports medicine physicians, candidates must complete medical school, earn a license, complete a residency and fellowship, and earn board certification in sports medicine. It takes a minimum of eight years of schooling, in most cases, to be ready to enter residency programs. As a result, the field of sports medicine is highly competitive.

Sports Medicine Degree Requirements

Sports medicine physician education requirements, like all medical career requirements, are fairly extensive. Becoming a sports medicine physician requires obtaining a bachelor's degree and a Doctor of Medicine (M.D.) degree. During their undergraduate years, students will need to take pre-med classes in biology, anatomy, and chemistry. Medical school is a four-year program in which the last two years include clinical rotations.

Sports medicine requirements go above and beyond the above education. Typically, sports medicine physicians have primary specialization in either orthopedic surgery or primary care with sub-specialty in sports medicine. During the clinical rotations, students can take electives in one of these specialty areas. Following the completion of medical school, graduates enter into residency programs. No residency programs exist that allow for specialization in sports medicine, but rotations can include sports medicine procedures.

Training Requirements

Residency programs begin the in-depth primary specialty training. During this time, a resident can begin to focus on surgical or non-surgical areas. After completing a residency, a physician can apply for a sports medicine fellowship program, which is typically one year in length.

Orthopedic surgeon fellows in sports medicine receive focused training on surgical techniques relating to sports injuries, such as knee or shoulder reconstruction. Many orthopedic sports medicine fellowships include research opportunities coupled with extensive clinical care.

Primary care sports medicine fellowships are open to physicians who have completed residencies in emergency medicine, pediatrics, internal medicine, or family practice medicine. This fellowship focuses on evaluating and treating orthopedic sports injuries by learning orthopedic rehabilitation procedures. Primary care sports medicine fellows work with various levels of team sports and practice the duties of an attending sports medicine physician. Much like surgical fellowships, primary care sports medicine physicians have the opportunity to develop research skills.

Physicians with sub-specialties in sports medicine can pursue the Certificate of Added Qualifications in Sports Medicine. Primary care sports medicine physicians must also be board certified in family medicine, pediatrics or internal medicine. Surgical sports medicine physicians are also eligible for board certification in sports medicine and typically hold Board Certified Orthopedic Surgeon designations.

What Injuries Do Sports Medicine Physicians Treat?

  • ACL tears and other knee injuries
  • Sprains, especially ankle or wrist
  • Fractures and broken bones
  • Arthritis
  • Rotator cuff injuries
  • Dislocations

Sports medicine physicians treat all of the above injuries and more, specializing in particular in the musculoskeletal system.

Employment Outlook and Salary Information

Salary.com reported in 2019 that sports medicine physicians earned a median salary of $232,181. Most sports medicine physicians earned from $198,180 to $295,339 at that time. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics predicted faster-than-average 4% employment growth for physicians and surgeons in general from 2019-2029, which is average for all jobs.

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