shutterstock 1034893375Though the field of sports medicine is broad and there are many ways to enter it, there is no denying that a career as a sports medicine physician appeals to many. For those interested in this specific career, it can be daunting to consider the years of education and training required before one is allowed to begin practice. However, a deeper look at what a sports medicine physician studies in their schooling and training may confirm in you that this is a career you are sure you are passionate about.

Educational Path for a Sports Medicine Physician

There is no denying that becoming a physician is a huge investment of both time and finances. Most medical doctors (MD) can expect at least 12-14 years of school and training after completion of high school.

  1. Bachelor’s degree (4 years): While it is common for future physicians to achieve a health or science related bachelor’s degree, there is no requirement for what type of bachelor’s degree one needs to apply to medical school. Many students use these years to study other passions. just pay attention to medical school prerequisites so you can be sure you complete them.
  2. Medical school (4 years): Medical school programs, regardless of specialization or track, take 4 years to complete. Though students may have a particular focus, they will get basic training in all areas of medicine. Typically, the final 2 years of medical school are clinical rotations.
  3. Residency training (3-6 years): Depending on one’s chosen specialty, residency training can be anywhere from 3-6 years long. These years are the beginning of in-depth training when a physician can focus on both surgical and non-surgical areas of work. Currently, there are no residency programs specific to sports medicine. Individuals who want to be a sports medicine physician will need to complete a residency program in another specialty (like internal medicine or family practice) and will then be able to achieve this specialty qualification.
  4. Fellowship (1-2 years): Physicians who have completed their residency program can then apply to a sports medicine fellowship. These are typically 1-2 years long. Focus during fellowship will be dependent on the branch of medicine (primary care, orthopedics, etc.) offering the fellowship. Potential areas of educational focus may include surgical techniques related to sports injury, evaluation and treatment of sports injuries, work with team sports, and research opportunities.

Some sports medicine physicians also achieve the Certificate of Added Qualifications in Sports Medicine (CAQ). Offered in conjunction with the American Board of Emergency Medicine, the American Board of Internal Medicine, the American Board of Pediatrics and the American Board of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, the CAQ is given to physicians who have shown expertise in the sports medicine field. To read more about necessary qualifications for this certification, visit this page.

What Does a Sports Medicine Medical Student Study?

One of the first things one needs to understand about being a sports medicine physician is that sports medicine is considered a sub-specialty. This means that students who desire to work in sports medicine will need to choose another primary specialization. Common primary specialty choices for future sports medicine physicians include orthopedic surgery or primary care.

Medical School Courses

Regardless of desired specialty, the first two years of medical school are spent in the classroom learning hands-on. Students will likely take courses in physical diagnosis, neurology, sexual development and reproduction, genetics, advanced anatomy and physiology, and ethics (not an exhaustive list of courses). The last two years of medical school will be spent in clinical rotations. During these years, students will rotate through all areas of medicine, though they may have greater opportunity to choose where they rotate in their final year of clinicals.

Residency Work

These are years (3-6) of supervised training. As mentioned previously, most students who want to work in sports medicine choose primary care or orthopedics as their primary specialty and have residencies that reflect that choice. In these years of training and work, students will learn about ways to support athletic achievement, prevent injury, and maintain optimal health. For the orthopedic surgeon, there will also be particular focus on surgical repair of athletic injuries (often involving bones, tendons, ligaments and cartilage). Though there are not residencies specific to sports medicine, it is still recommended to do some research before choosing residencies to apply for. Some residencies offer more opportunities specific to sports medicine work.

Fellowship Work

At last, this year(s) is a sports medicine student’s deep dive specifically into sports medicine. Fellowship students will be exposed to athletic injury, diagnosis, and treatment, as well as experience with rehabilitation, nutrition, the psychology of sports and performance, and research opportunities. Some fellows get to work with athletic teams or large sporting events, treating and maintaining athlete health.

Working As a Sports Medicine Physician

The sports medicine physician description can look a variety of ways. While there are common areas of work focus, the day-to-day practice of these MDs may be really different! Some sports medicine physicians will spend their days in hospitals and clinics, while others work with professional or college sports teams. Those who work in hospitals and clinics may spend a lot of time in the operating room and/or intimately involved in non-surgical patient rehab. MDs who work with athletic teams may travel with the team, doing their work wherever the team is. You may also find sports medicine physicians working at fitness centers, gyms, or large athletic events like marathons and Iron Man(s). Finally, the description of work continues to look different for those who have further specialized in specific populations like geriatrics or pediatrics.

The landscape of sports medicine is relatively new and continues to change. Regardless of which workplace a sports medicine physician lands, you can be sure that they have both the professional and personal satisfaction of being an integral part of the healing and restoration process for many individuals. Though the years of training may be long and the student loans overwhelming, it is highly likely that you will find great joy in this area of work too.

Laura Mansfield

Master of Healthcare Administration (MHA) | Sacred Heart University

Associate’s Degree of Nursing (ADN) | North Seattle Community College

Bachelor of Business Administration (B.B.A.), Marketing, Sales | University of Washington (Seattle)

January 2020

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