What does an Orthopedic Physician do?

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  • Written By: Elva K.
  • Edited By: Heather Bailey
  • Last Modified Date: 08 January 2020
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An orthopedic physician focuses on the diagnosis, treatment, and care of patients who have musculoskeletal disorders. While some orthopedic physicians pursue careers in general surgery, others may choose to specialize in things such as foot or ankle orthopedics, joint reconstruction, musculoskeletal oncology, hand surgery, or adult reconstructive orthopedics. Additional areas of potential specialization include shoulder or elbow surgery, orthopedic sports medicine, orthopedic spinal surgery, orthopedic trauma work with accident victims, orthopedic pediatrics, or rehabilitation physiatry.

In addition to doing diagnostics, surgery, bone transplants, or muscle transplants, orthopedic physicians prescribe medications, give lifestyle suggestions, and give preventive suggestions. Orthopedic physicians also coordinate work with various other professionals. For instance, orthopedic physicians work with social workers, nurses, rehabilitation therapists, psychologists, pharmacists, or other health professionals to better serve the unique needs of each patient.

An individual who hopes to become an orthopedic physician typically begins by earning a bachelor's degree. Whichever major the individual chooses, the program of studies will typically include courses required for application to medical school. For instance, the individual will usually have to successfully complete biology, chemistry, calculus, physics, and statistics.


Application to medical school typically occurs during the final year of college. Once accepted to medical school, the aspiring orthopedic physician completes four years of school, does a one-year internship after medical school, and then completes orthopedic residency, which is a supervised experience of at least five years. Some choose to do additional fellowship training after completion of residency, which typically includes two years of research and clinical training. In addition, the aspiring orthopedic physician must pass a licensure exam to become a practicing orthopedic physician.

During the course of a career, orthopedic physicians usually work long and irregular hours. For example, it is not uncommon for orthopedic physicians to have to work 60-hour work weeks. Sometimes these work hours occur on an on-call basis, which makes orthopedic physicians' work very stressful.

Many orthopedic physicians work in hospitals, while others choose to work in offices or become managers of clinics. Some choose to conduct research, teach at hospitals or universities, and publish their articles in various academic journals while others become medical school administrators or hospital administrators. By contrast, the career that an orthopedic physician chooses might involve being a research director in a pharmaceutical company or being the team physician for a professional sports team.



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