How to Become an Orthopedist
Orthopedist Careers & Degrees

Orthopedists are specialized physicians that focus their careers on treating and diagnosing individuals experiencing musculoskeletal problems.

The musculoskeletal system includes the bones, ligaments, nerves, tendons and joints.

Orthopedists primarily treat individuals whose mobility is restricted due to injuries or ailments affecting areas such as the feet, hips or knees.

Individuals who want to become an Orthopedist will need to attain an in depth understanding of the musculoskeletal system.

In addition, some helpful skills and personal characteristics such as physical stamina, patience, compassion and being detail oriented will help individuals succeed in this field.

Education Requirements to Become an Orthopedist

Individuals who want to become an Orthopedist will need several years of postsecondary schooling starting with a bachelor’s degree.

Individuals must then attend medical school, attain a license in order to treat patients and complete a residency.

Those just beginning their undergraduate degree are encouraged to study a science related field to help them enter medical school to become an Orthopedist.

Some recommended majors include biology or microbiology.

There are no specific majors required to attend a medical school, however, because entry into a medical school is highly competitive, individuals are encouraged to study biology or microbiology or a pre-med degree.

Individuals who did not complete one of these degrees are encouraged to take classes focusing on math and sciences including: mathematics, chemistry, physics, biology, social sciences and English.

Once an individual begins medical school, they will spend time focusing on classroom and laboratory work as well as time gaining hands on experience.

The first two years of medical school typically include completing laboratory and classroom work in areas such as: anatomy, pharmacology, medical ethics, biochemistry and psychology.

During the last two years of medical school, individuals will have the opportunity to work individually with patients in several areas through clinical rotations.

Rotations are supervised by a licensed physician; medical students will alternate between several areas in medicine which may include: internal medicine, gynecology, pediatrics, family practice or surgery.

After completing medical school, individuals must then become licensed in order to practice in their field.

Licensure requirements will vary by state and will need to be completed before an individual enters a residency program in orthopedics.

A residency program may take years to complete but is a training program in which individuals will learn their specialty by being able to practice in their field.

Orthopedist Job Description

Orthopedists are licensed physicians who work with patients to treat a variety of musculoskeletal problems including deformities or injuries.

Orthopedists specialize in providing healthcare that focuses on helping individuals use their extremities to enable their mobility.

These professionals will also work with patients to provide preventative care that lowers the risk for musculoskeletal injuries or diseases.

They do this by repairing bones and working with ligaments, joints, tendons and nerves to promote a healthy musculoskeletal system.

Individuals entering this field have the option to choose a specialization with orthopedics such as: sports medicine, pediatric orthopedics, reconstructive orthopedics or musculoskeletal oncology.

Individuals may also specialize in a specific part of the body such as the spine, hands or feet.

Orthopedist Salary and Career Path

In 2012, the median salary for physicians and surgeons who worked in a medical specialty, such as orthopedics, was approximately $396,233 per year.

Exact wages will depend on a variety of factors including years of experience, whether an individual owns their own practice and their geographical location.

The job outlook for all physicians and surgeons, including Orthopedists is expected to grow faster than average when compared to other professions.

Job opportunities are expected to grow by 18 percent through the year 2022.

This job growth is attributed to the expansion of healthcare industries that allow more individuals to receive healthcare services and treatment.

Individuals who want to focus their career as an Orthopedist can expect to use their educational background and skills to help their patients overcome a variety of musculoskeletal problems or diseases.

In addition, because it is a specialization in medicine, these professionals are also some of the highest paid.

Individuals entering this profession can expect a challenging career and the opportunity to work with a variety of individuals needing treatment.

The below information is based on the 2019 BLS national averages.
  • Annually
  • Monthly
  • Hourly

National Average Salary

$201,440
$60K
$107K
$201K
$K
$K
10%
25%
50%
75%
90%

Average Salary by State

StateAvg. Annual Salary
Alabama$213,790
Alaska$230,160
Arizona$218,630
Arkansas$146,900
California$212,510
Colorado$195,190
Connecticut$206,200
Delaware$208,750
District of Columbia$165,080
Florida$204,690
Georgia$95,690
Hawaii$235,770
Idaho$173,190
Illinois$211,950
Indiana$257,270
Iowa$216,910
Kansas$211,770
Kentucky$209,700
Louisiana$188,650
Maine$239,460
Maryland$203,270
Massachusetts$232,970
Michigan$171,210
Minnesota$242,390
Mississippi$218,830
Missouri$216,350
Montana$202,100
Nebraska$249,510
Nevada$253,920
New Hampshire$241,240
New Jersey$220,790
New Mexico$280,620
New York$188,370
North Carolina$256,000
North Dakota$266,540
Ohio$196,860
Oklahoma$190,030
Oregon$237,910
Pennsylvania$227,650
Rhode Island$171,280
South Carolina$248,760
South Dakota$281,590
Tennessee$199,720
Texas$160,180
Utah$230,170
Vermont$207,920
Virginia$234,220
Washington$224,940
West Virginia$146,840
Wisconsin$253,900
Wyoming$273,570
Puerto Rico$73,990

The top earning state in the field is South Dakota, where the average salary is $281,590.

These are the top 5 earning states in the field:

South Dakota - $281,590
New Mexico - $280,620
Wyoming - $273,570
North Dakota - $266,540
Indiana - $257,270
* Salary information based on the May 2019 Occupational Employment Statistics (OES) Survey for General Internal Medicine Physicians, OCC Code 29-1216, BLS.
* Employment conditions in your area may vary.

Frequently Asked Questions

QuestionWhat is an orthopedist?

An orthopedist is a doctor who specializes in the prevention and treatment of disorders, injuries, and deformities of the musculoskeletal system.

Orthopedists can specialize in a particular subspecialty, such as pediatric orthopedics, or in treating a particular part of the body, such as hand and wrist, back, neck, or hips and knee.

An orthopedic doctor can sometimes recommend surgery but surgical intervention is usually a last resort.

Orthopedists often recommend non-surgical treatments, such as rest, physical therapy and medication.

In order to perform a correct diagnosis, orthopedists ask their patients about their day-to-day habits, review the patient’s medical history and can sometimes order blood tests, x-rays, or other tests.

As an orthopedic doctor, you will need a variety of skills, including compassion, dexterity, interpersonal skills, and communication skills.

Like all physicians, orthopedists work long, irregular hours and may work night schedules.

QuestionHow much does an orthopedist make?

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual wage for physicians and surgeons, in general, was equal to or greater than $208,000 as of May 2018.

Salaries in this field vary widely depending on the specialty, the region and the physician’s level of experience.

QuestionHow much does it cost to become an orthopedist?

Orthopedists, like all physicians and surgeons, need many years of training.

If you want to become an orthopedic doctor, the first step is to complete your undergraduate studies.

Tuition costs vary widely depending on the school and the program you choose.

Pre-med programs for out-of-state students cost, on average, around $40,000-$45,000 a year at a public college.

After earning your bachelor’s degree, the next step is to enroll at a medical school.

Four years of medical school will cost you between $150,000-$250,000 at a public school.

During the first two years of medical school, you will spend most of your time in laboratories and classrooms where you will learn anatomy, biochemistry, pharmacology, ethics and the laws that govern a doctor’s activity but also gain practical skills.

During the last 2 years of medical school students have the chance of working with patients under the supervision of experienced physicians, thus gaining experience in diagnosing and treating illnesses in a variety of specialties.

After graduating from medical school you will need to get your state license and complete your residency in orthopedics.

QuestionWhat is the demand for orthopedists?

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the employment of physicians and surgeons, in general, is expected to grow 7 percent from 2018 to 2028.

As the population ages, the demand for orthopedists and doctors who specialize in treating diseases and injuries that affect the elderly is expected to grow.

QuestionHow long does it take to become an orthopedist?

If you want to become an orthopedist, you must graduate from medical school, complete a residency period and earn your state license.

Before enrolling at medical school you should first graduate from a four-year bachelor’s degree program and obtain a passing score at the Medical College Admission Test.

After finishing four years of medical school, the next step is to start a residency in orthopedics.

The residency period is usually 4-5 years long.

If you want to further specialize in a subspecialty of orthopedics, you will need to complete 1-2 years of fellowship.

Find a Program