About once a month, someone emails me and asks for advice on going into sports medicine. You might want to work in sports medicine one day too.
Most of the questions I receive come from people who want to be orthopedic surgeons or team doctors in professional sports. Those are great fields, but there are many ways you can work with athletes and active individuals. I think you can be happy and feel fulfilled working in any of these fields.
Athletic trainers are arguably the hardest working people in sports medicine. If you watch sports, you see them on the sidelines or running on the field to evaluate the injured athletes. Yes, evaluating and treating injuries are important parts of what they do. Honestly, they are critical to athletes for so many other reasons too.
They create emergency action plans. They respond to medical injury emergencies. They monitor field and weather conditions. They help rehabilitate athletes. They coordinate the care of injured athletes and communicate return to play information to coaches. (To be fair, that is just the beginning of the list.)
Time to recognize the importance of physical therapists
Currently, you receive a bachelor’s degree in athletic training before sitting for the certification exam. Soon athletic training will be an entry-level master’s program.
This is another great profession in healthcare. Physical therapists help to rehabilitate active people after injury. They can evaluate and treat an athlete after an injury or after the patient is referred by a doctor.
Physical therapy is critical to help injured people return to what they love to do. They usually develop tremendous bonds with their patients after spending two or three days each week, often for months, with their patients. I’ve heard many physical therapists say that they love helping a patient go from being in pain and depressed that they can’t do what they want to do to being pain free and playing sports or exercising. It’s a rewarding profession.
After college, you go to physical therapy school. You finish with a doctorate in physical therapy.
Primary care sports medicine
These are the medical doctors for the sports teams. They treat medical issues that athletes may face. They can also evaluate and treat musculoskeletal injuries and refer them to orthopedic surgeons if needed. They often work in hospital-based sports medicine programs or in orthopedic surgery practices. This is a great field of medicine, and it seems to be getting more popular all the time.
Athletic trainers: Some of sports’ true heroes
Athletic trainers prepare athletes for success
To become a primary care sports medicine physician, you go to medical school after college. You complete a residency in family medicine, pediatrics, physical medicine and rehabilitation, internal medicine or emergency medicine. Then you apply for and complete a fellowship in primary care sports medicine.
These are usually the head team physicians in professional and college sports. Orthopedic surgeons treat bone and joint injuries. In addition to sideline coverage of sporting events, they spend a large part of their week in surgery treating knee, elbow, hip and ankle injuries. Some of the injuries and surgeries only keep an athlete out for a few days or weeks. Others can take a year or more.
To become an orthopedic surgeon, you apply and go to medical school after college. Then you complete a residency in orthopedic surgery before performing a fellowship in orthopedic sports medicine. You can then work at an academic medical center, a private hospital or a private practice orthopedic surgery group.
There are a number of other ways to work with athletes and active people – dietitian, sports psychologist, sports neurologist, chiropractor, massage therapist and more. If you’re interested in sports medicine, you should check out all of these options.
Ask Dr. Geier: Becoming a team doctor