Sports medicine professionals prevent, diagnose, treat and rehabilitate athletic injuries. They also prescribe and manage strength training, conditioning and exercise regiments. While it is common for sports medicine professionals to be actual physicians, individuals not interested in attending medical school can find undergraduate and graduate degree and certificate programs in sports medicine at schools across the United States. These degree programs prepare individuals to find entry-level healthcare employment with fitness centers, health clubs and athletic departments in schools, colleges and universities.
Non-medical degree sports medicine professionals do not adhere to any specific experience requirements. However, individuals who couple formal education with practical internships at rehab clinics, fitness centers or physical therapy facilities may have the best opportunities for employment.
Certificate Programs in Sports Medicine
Sports medicine certificate programs focus on rehabilitative therapies and provide students with foundational knowledge and skills. Students learn medical terminology and exercise science principles. Coursework in a certificate program may include:
- Sports medicine
- Sports nutrition
- Weight Training
Associate's Degree Programs in Sports Medicine
Associate's degree programs are geared towards entry-level sports medicine professionals. This undergraduate degree program teaches students how to assess individuals' health and fitness, recommend appropriate exercise routines and create customized nutrition and fitness plans. It also teaches them to recognize health risk factors, prevent injuries and suggest sports medicine therapies. Typical coursework may include:
- Human anatomy
- Strength training
- Sports psychology
Bachelor's Degree Programs in Sports Medicine
Bachelor's degree programs emphasize athletic training and conditioning, sports nutrition, injury evaluation and exercise physiology. Students also learn to evaluate sports injuries and provide rehabilitative treatments. Many undergraduate students blend theoretical knowledge with hands-on experience by participating in clinical sports medicine internships at local rehab clinics or physical therapy groups. Some continue their education by pursing related graduate degrees programs. Common courses in a bachelor's degree program may include:
- Human anatomy
- Clinical exercise physiology
- Personal health and wellness
Master's Degree Programs in Sports Medicine
Graduate degree programs often focus on sports injury research and studies. Students gain comprehensive knowledge in musculoskeletal injuries and common health-related sports conditions. Topics of study may include:
- Advanced strength training and conditioning
- Exercise physiology
- Human movement
- Biomechanical effects
Doctor of Medicine (M.D.) Programs
Individuals interested in becoming sports medicine physicians need to complete traditional medical degree and residency programs. Specialized sports medicine fellowships then provide additional athletic medical training. Students learn to prevent, diagnose and treat injuries related to athletics, exercise or normal physical activity. Fellowships teach prospective doctors how to administer pre-sports examinations, provide therapeutic treatments, including splints and braces, and offer patients home rehabilitation techniques. Sports medicine doctors refine common microsurgical techniques and preventative treatment skills. Sports medicine physicians adhere to strict medical school, residency and medical specialty guidelines. This means that medical students endure years of practical experience prior to licensure. Most of these job-related experiences come in the form of paid, clinical residency programs that last 3-8 years and provide intensive clinical expertise.
New sports medicine techniques and progressive medical technologies necessitate continuing education for sports medicine professionals. Many employers encourage sports medicine specialists to attend professional development courses, seminars and conferences when justified. In addition, individuals with first aid or CPR certifications must recertify when required.
Professional associations, such as ACSM and the American Orthopaedic Society for Sports Medicine (AOSSM), offer various sports medicine workshops and seminars for personal trainers, athletic trainers and team doctors. These conferences keep sports professionals abreast with the latest trends, techniques and technologies in sports medicine. Specialized coursework and fellowships for sports medicine doctors are also available through the AOSSM.
Sport medicine specialists with undergraduate and graduate degrees are not required by law to obtain federal or state-mandated licensure. However, like all doctors, sports medicine physicians must obtain licensure in order to practice medicine. This licensure is contingent upon successful completion of accredited medical school degree and residency programs, as well as passing standard medical board examinations. Sports medicine physicians also sit for the American Board of Family Medicine's Certificate of Added Qualification (CAQ) examination in sports medicine. Voluntary professional board certification for sports medicine doctors is available through the American Board of Internal Medicine (ABIM).
As you have read, students interested in sports medicine have several options, including degrees at both the undergraduate and graduate levels and undergraduate certificates. Some of the courses related to sports medicine range from sports nutrition and weight training all the way to exercise physiology and human movement, depending on the degree program.