You’re watching your favorite American college football team on TV Saturday night. It’s the fourth quarter, third down, and two yards to go. The ball is hiked and handed off to the running back who makes the first down! Unfortunately he’s tackled by two players on the opposing team. When the play is whistled dead, the defenders stand up from the pile but the running back lies face down, motionless.
Quickly the athletic trainers rush on the field with the team doctor to assess the patient, talking directly into his ear. The crowd remains silent as they wait in anticipation for any sign of movement or a signal from the player, trainer, or doctor.
Is your interest piqued? Do you want to be that sports doctor running onto the field with the athletic trainers? Then keep reading about the important things to know when considering a career in sports medicine. These sports physicians are trained in the treatment, prevention, and rehabilitation of athletic illness and injury. Sports medicine physicians treat athletes of all ages and skill levels in a wide variety of sports. Many are passionate about simply keeping patients active and healthy.
Why Choose This Type of Career?
Sports medicine is a popular and growing field in the job search category and one that is quite competitive.
There are many aspects and career category opportunities within sports medicine but in general you should:
- Enjoy working with athletes of all ages and skill levels (professional, collegiate, high school, master, weekend warriors)
- Love musculoskeletal medicine, rehabilitation, prevention, and diagnosis of athletic injuries
- Be passionate about working with patients who are eager to push themselves to the limit for the sake of an athletic program goal and strive to get them to their sports goals safely
- Desire a team-based approach to medicine with collaboration among many professionals including sports trainers, physical therapists, primary care sports medicine doctors, orthopedic surgeons, radiologists, sports psychologists, and sports nutritionists
- Be interested in a public health program and the potential for a procedure-based practice with medical procedures including joint injections, trigger point injections, osteopathic manipulative medicine, splinting and casting, ultrasound-guided procedures, and orthopedic surgery
- Be interested in sports-related topics such as nutrition, athletic supplements, and ergogenic aids, whether banned or accepted
Sports Medicine Career Options
Many professionals call themselves sports medicine providers.
From a sports medicine practitioner to if you want to become a physical therapist, I’ve listed some of the paying career options available to you and the approximate career salary level for each one:
- Athletic trainer: $41,831-$51,553
- Physical therapist: $79,851-$94,053
- Orthopedic surgeon: $377,990-$622,000
- Primary care sports medicine: $125,000- $350,000 (average $222,000)
- Sports psychologist: $49,700-$109,000
- Dance movement therapist: $30,000-$81,000
- Exercise physiologist: $47,005-$61,119
- Physiatrist: $210,200-$259,100
- Orthopedic nurse: $46,240-$81,000
- Kinesiotherapist: $60,000-$90,000
So, whether you want to become a physical therapist (physical therapist jobs will grow 22% over the next decade), doctor of sports medicine, or even join a team of athletic trainers (profession is expected to grow 19% over the next 10 years), the options are out there, each with a different salary range. The salary will depend on how long you’ve been practicing and where you are practicing.
How Do You Become a Sports Medicine Doctor?
Training begins with a four-year bachelor’s degree, including pre-medical courses, followed by four years of medical school (after passing the MCAT, of course). After obtaining a Doctor of Medicine (MD) or Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine (DO) degree you can choose a residency in family medicine, pediatrics, internal medicine, physical medicine and rehabilitation, or emergency medicine.
With all of these specialties you can then apply for a one-to-two year sports medicine fellowship after the completion of your residency. You can also choose the specialty of orthopedic surgery and apply for a sports medicine surgery fellowship after completion of the residency program.
At each level of career training in the business, including during your bachelor’s degree or master’s degree curriculum, there are numerous training opportunities to gain athletic coverage and clinical experience.
This helps to build your resume, increase your clinical knowledge, and solidify your interest and commitment to the field. This may also help you to fulfill certain bachelor’s degree and master’s degree course requirements and obtain certifications.
Where Do Sports Medicine Doctors Work?
Sports Medicine Doctors work in many different business settings throughout their career. Although most American sports doctors have a clinical outpatient office where they see patients, your business environment could include the sports sideline or athletic training room coverage alongside physical therapists, hospital-based care, or local, regional or international coverage with a team.
Sports medicine providers also work alongside orthopedic surgeons in group business practices, in urgent care centers, emergency rooms, and student health centers. You could work for a large business group with physical therapists, hospital-based system, academic institution, or own your own career practice! The versatility of this sports physician role in practicing sports and exercise medicine offers many choices on the American business setting in which you decide to practice.
How Do You Know This Profession is Right For You?
I believe the best way to know if you truly want to be a sports medicine doctor and practice sport and exercise medicine is to find a sports doctor and shadow them for a few days. Many sports physicians have an interest in teaching and mentorship. If you have a passion for evaluating athletes, dealing with sports injuries, and love the structure and function of how the musculoskeletal system works, then this sport medicine doctor field may be a great fit for you. Just note that jobs for surgeons and physicians will continue to grow slowly at 7% so you want to be sure to weigh the cons of becoming a doctor, too.