What Does a Sports Medicine Doctor Do?

Jul 25, 2018

Learn about the job requirements and duties of a sports medicine doctor as well as the training and education necessary for entering this particular medical field.

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Job Duties and Work Environment

Sports medicine doctors work with athletes on a variety of issues in multiple settings. Individuals who wish to pursue this profession should learn about the specific education and fellowship requirements for this field. Sports medicine doctors are either orthopedic surgeons or primary care physicians who prescribe treatments for professional and amateur athletes. They're trained to address issues associated with nutrition, sports psychology, and substance abuse and may also counsel athletes on injury prevention. In addition, they sometimes focus on special groups of people, such as young children or the elderly.

Typical job duties include:

  • Diagnosing and treating athletic injuries
  • Designing treatment and rehabilitation strategies
  • Consulting with patients about their recovery progress
  • Prescribing medication when necessary

Sports medicine doctors may also work alongside physical therapists to create rehabilitation plans or with athletic trainers to develop appropriate exercise regimens. While orthopedic surgeons are trained to perform surgery, primary care sports medicine doctors do not operate on athletes but can expedite referral to a surgeon if surgery is required. Sports medicine doctors may work in a variety of environments, including hospitals, medical clinics, physical therapy practices, high schools, colleges and universities, and professional sports organizations.

Required Education

Doctors wishing to specialize in sports medicine must first obtain a 4-year bachelor's degree, including pre-medical courses. They must then pass the Medical College Admissions Test, also called the MCAT, and be admitted into a 4-year medical school. After graduating, sports medicine doctors serve a 3-year residency. Because sports medicine is not recognized as a residency training specialty in the United States, most doctors complete a residency in family or emergency medicine before moving on to a 1- or 2-year sports medicine fellowship.


Fellowship programs in sports medicine are often offered through a hospital's rehabilitation or sports medicine department. Participants are trained in assessment, evaluation, and rehabilitation of sports-related injuries. These programs typically require doctors to log extensive clinical hours with local high school or college athletic departments and sports medicine clinics.

During this time, doctors receive paid, hands-on experience. Their duties may include performing preliminary examinations, interpreting the results of x-rays or MRIs, treating head or spinal cord injuries, prescribing protective equipment, and observing orthopedic surgeries.

Upon successful completion of a fellowship program, a sports medicine doctor must take the Certificate of Added Qualifications in sports medicine examination through either the American Board of Medical Specialties or the American Osteopathic Association Bureau of Osteopathic Specialists.

After earning a medical degree and completing a residency, aspiring sports medicine doctors can prepare for certification by completing a fellowship program. From there, they can launch their careers providing medical treatment for athletes.

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