In a graduate-level sports medicine degree program, students learn about various types of athletic injuries, such as joint injuries and bone breaks, and the methods used for preventing and treating these injuries. You can enroll in either a master's (M.S.) or doctoral (Ph.D.) program, both of which can prepare you for a career as a sports medicine practitioner or an educator through relevant courses and/or clinicals. At the end of your training, you may be required to submit a thesis or dissertation. To be considered for admission, an undergraduate degree is required. Other application materials may also be requested.
Master of Science in Sports Medicine
Injuries occur frequently in athletes. Students enrolled in a Master of Science degree program in sports medicine receive training in how to treat and assess basic athletic injuries. Some topics covered in the M.S. program include motion analysis, electromyography, balance assessment methods and isokinetic dynamometry. Many M.S. programs feature a clinical component, which gives students an opportunity to gain practical experience with rehabilitation methods and techniques. Some M.S. programs have a thesis requirement, while others do not. Students planning on pursing a Ph.D. program in sports medicine are encouraged to complete and defend a thesis.
Usually, there aren't any requirements as to the type of undergraduate degree earned by an applicant. Many colleges and universities only require that applicants hold an undergraduate degree in some area. Additionally, a university may request letters of recommendation and a statement of purpose. Applicants may also have to schedule an interview. The classes in a graduate-level sports medicine program cover most common athletic injuries and treatment methods. Some courses address the psychology of the athlete. Common course topics include:
- Orthopedic injury
- Athletic performance
- Nutrition for athletes
- Athletes and eating disorders
- Sports medicine laboratory techniques
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Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) in Sports Medicine
A sports medicine Ph.D. program provides training in the major areas of rehabilitation science, including biomechanics, physiology, anatomy and pathokinesiology. The curriculum is flexible, as students are often encouraged to develop areas of specialization. Many courses feature a clinical component and emphasize the use of rehabilitation methods for common sports injuries. Although there are course requirements, students can expect to spend most of their time at a sports medicine laboratory conducting research and writing a dissertation, which they will have to defend in the final year of enrollment.
Very few universities offer Ph.D. programs in sports medicine. Generally, they require that applicants complete master's degrees in sports medicine or a closely related area before enrolling. Applicants will also need to submit statements of purpose, letters of recommendation and writing samples. In some instances, universities may request resumes and personal interviews. Classes for the Ph.D. program may be split between core sports medicine courses and courses in research methodology and statistics. Common courses include:
- Performance and nutrition
- Eating disorders in athletes
- Biological systems and signals
- Biomechanics and human movement
- Epidemiology principles
- Statistical methods
Popular Career Options
Graduates of an M.S. program in sports medicine can find work in a variety of fitness and personal wellness roles. Possible jobs include:
- Personal trainer
- Wellness consultant
- Athletic coach
- Sports nutritionist
Graduates of Ph.D. programs in sports medicine typically pursue careers at educator or researchers at colleges and universities. Some popular options for graduates include:
- University professor
- Rehabilitation science researcher
- Nutrition consultant
- Clinical exercise physiologist
Job Outlook and Salary Information
Some sports medicine graduates pursue careers as athletic trainers. Many athletic trainers have at minimum a master's or doctoral degree in sports medicine or a related field. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that employment of athletic trainers should increase by about 21% between 2014 and 2024, which is much faster than the national average.
The primary reason for this excellent job growth is the increased emphasis on preventative care within the medical community. Recreation sports centers and fitness clubs may provide the best opportunities for employment. However, many athletic trainers choose to be self-employed and work as consultants. According to the BLS, the annual median salary for an athletic trainer was $44,670 as of May 2015.
In summary, a graduate degree in sports medicine can provide the background and clinical experience you need whether you want to work directly with patients or pursue further research or education.