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Last Updated: 03/17/15

Orthopedic Surgery Description

As an orthopedic surgeon you will be specially trained in the evaluation, preservation and restoration of the structure and function of the spine and extremities as well as any associated structures that have been affected. Orthopedic surgeons can help correct a wide range of health issues associated with the musculoskeletal system including congenital deformities, infections, trauma, metabolic disturbances, sports injuries and deformities, as well as degenerative diseases that manifest in the shoulders, hips, knees, feet, elbows and spine. As with most specialties, orthopedic surgeons can choose to practice in a subspecialty, including orthopedic sports medicine, pediatric orthopedics and surgery of the hand.

Orthopedic surgeons spend the majority of their work hours performing surgeries in the operating room. They do both major and minor surgeries; the minor surgeries are usually done on an outpatient basis and might include arthroscopic surgery or simply casting bones. The more major surgeries might include spine surgery, repairing shattered bones in trauma patients or doing total joint replacements. Orthopedic surgeons also spend a large amount of time doing office visits where they follow up with patients, remove casts, fit patients for braces or do consults. Most orthopedic surgeons enjoy working just four to four and a half days each week, but these are usually very long days. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that just about 43% of surgeons work more than 50 hours every week. Because they always need to be up to date with the latest surgical techniques, they also spend some time at conferences and seminars. Orthopedic surgeons can work for hospitals, clinics or private practices. If you end up working at a hospital, you will more than likely be required to be on call some weekends and nights, especially if they have a high trauma load.


These long hours might have something to do with the way orthopedic surgeon rated their happiness on a 2012 Medscape physician lifestyle survey. Their happiness score was a 3.96 out of 5 (5 being the happiest). This score put them at twelfth place, tied with ob/gyns, out of 25 specialties that were polled. However, somehow despite all of the hours they work, 75% of orthopedic surgeons reported that they participated in volunteerism. The greatest percentage reported doing pro-bono clinical work, so this is an indication of how much they really love what they do.


Training Requirements

In order to become an orthopedic surgeon, you must first complete a medical school program. You will then complete a residency in orthopedic surgery, which generally takes 4 to 5 years to complete. If you choose to practice a subspecialty, you also need to complete a 1 to 2 year fellowship. Before practicing you must also pass the U.S. Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE) as well as a certification exam given by the American Board of Orthopedic Surgery.


Orthopedic Surgeon Salary

According to a 2010 physician compensation survey published in Modern Healthcare, the annual salary for orthopedic surgeons ranged from $397,800 to $600,000. A recent report showed that from lowest to highest orthopedic surgeon made anywhere from $99,897 to $511,800. Of course what you make depends on what type of facility you work in, your experience and what region of the country you work in. Those who work in private practices, or own their own practice make the most.


Career Outlook

The Bureau of Labor statistics has forecasted a 22% increase in the career growth for physicians and surgeons from now until 2018. The opportunities for jobs are much higher in rural and low income areas that have a harder time attracting physicians. There is also of course the baby boom population which is beginning to reach retirement. This not only means there will be more patients in need of orthopedic surgery, but also many orthopedic surgeons will be retiring.


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