Sports medicine physicians, or sports medicine doctors, are medical professionals who focus on promoting physical health and fitness. They are experts in musculoskeletal medicine and how the body moves, strengthens, and recovers. By focusing on nutrition, exercise, injury, and illness, sports medicine physicians’ objective is to help their patients live an optimally healthy lifestyle.
Why Become A Sports Medicine Physician
To increase patient physical performance, sports medicine physicians work to prevent and manage illnesses, such as diabetes, asthma, or heart issues. They also help patients heal and recover from sprains, fractures, and other bodily injuries. Sports medicine physicians work with athletes—of all experiences, ages, and skills—so their job is to keep their patients active and engaged.
Because sports medicine physicians are entrusted with the physical health of their patients, this occupation requires select characteristics and skills:
Aptitude for medicine
Profound knowledge of musculoskeletal functions
Present and available
Passion to educate
Sports Medicine Physician Work Environment
Sports medicine physicians can work in any environment that meets the needs of athletically-driven people. A common arena of sports medicine is practiced within collegiate and professional sports. Physicians can work for specific collegiate training programs or with athletic teams. They may travel with specific professional teams, as well. As with other doctors, sports medicine physicians can also work in a group or private practice setting, or even a hospital, seeing patients of all ages and abilities.
This work is often full-time and during normal business hours. Doctors typically remain available on-call for their patients during evenings, weekends, and holidays. For those who work with collegiate or professional teams, travel is likely. This type of work most likely will take place during the evenings and weekends.
Sports Medicine Physician Salary
The median annual salary for sports medicine physicians was $205,573, in 2015. Their pay can range from $150,493 to $311,926, per year, depending on the experience, location, and employment of the physician. Individuals who work in hospitals will most likely earn the least, while those who work with professional teams will typically make the most and may even earn bonuses.
Sports Medicine Physician Career Outlook
The job outlook for sports medicine is better than average. Many individuals will actively seek methods to improve and maintain their physical health. People of all ages and talents will seek physical activity by means of joining teams, gyms, or recreational leagues. Individuals are utilizing sports medicine practices more than ever, especially as the baby boomer generation continues to age and diseases, like diabetes, become more prevalent among the general population.
Sports Medicine Physician Degree
To become a sports medicine physician, individuals must earn a Medical Doctor (M.D.) or a Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine (D.O.) degree, and then continue to specialize in sports medicine. Practicing doctors must also have a license to see patients. Certification is available, which elevates one’s knowledge and credentials.
Step 1: Obtain a bachelor’s degree. Individuals who aspire toward a career in medicine should earn a pre-medical undergraduate degree. In a pre-medical program, students will take courses in organic chemistry, inorganic chemistry, biology, physics, mathematics, and communication skills (English). To gain entrance into medical school, graduates must pass the Medical College Admission Test (M-CAT). Any pre-medical program should provide the educational training necessary to pass this examination.
Note: Due to the competitiveness of medical school admissions, it is recommended that graduated students gain experience through internships or volunteer/paid positions in healthcare settings.
Step 2: Complete medical school. Sports medicine physicians must earn either an M.D. or a D.O. degree. In each school (allopathic for M.D.s and osteopathic for D.O.s), students learn everything necessary to become medical experts, taking courses such as anatomy, biochemistry, microbiology, pathology, pharmacology, and physiology. Training for a D.O. degree will primarily focus on the musculoskeletal system, as well as preventative medicine.
After approximately two years of coursework, medical students will perform clinical rotations, which are pertinent to their field of aspiring practice. In this case, students will make clinical rotations in sports medicine and other applicable fields to gain authentic experience with patients (medical histories, diagnoses, examinations, etc.).
Step 3: Obtain a medical license. All states require that doctors have a medical license to practice. Each path has its own licensing examination: M.D.s must pass the United States Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE), and D.O.s must pass the Comprehensive Osteopathic Medical Licensing Exam (COMLEX). Each examination is a three-part assessment, which focuses on terminology, concepts, and application.
Step 4: Complete a residency program. The next step toward becoming a sports medicine physician is to acquire additional training through a residency program. These programs take approximately three to four years to complete. Licensed doctors can choose residency programs in internal medicine, pediatrics, family practice, or other specialized programs, such as rehabilitation, physical medicine, emergency medicine, or orthopedic surgery. During this time, doctors prepare for practice and research. They will attend lectures and seminars, participate in clinical rotations, and study their subject through research.
Step 5: Obtain board certification (optional). Once a doctor completes a residency program, he or she may choose to become board certified through an organization accredited by either the American Board of Medicine Specialties (ABMS) or the American Osteopathic Association (AOA).
Step 6: Complete a fellowship program. Once a doctor is licensed and has completed a residency, he or she must continue to study to become a sports medicine specialist. Aspiring primary care physicians must complete a fellowship in primary care sports medicine, and orthopedic surgeons must complete a fellowship in surgical sports medicine. Each program takes about one to two years to complete. Fellowship programs in sports medicine are designed to provide doctors with additional training regarding osteopathic injuries. This training includes attending to athletes at sporting events, attending conferences, teaching, and completing research.
Step 7: Obtain a Certificate of Added Qualifications (CAQ) in sports medicine (optional). Upon fellowship completion, sports medicine physicians may choose to earn a CAQ in sports medicine, which can only be obtained with prior board certification.