Responsibility of Orthopaedic Surgeons

Each year millions of individuals around the world suffer an injury or battle a disease which attacks their musculoskeletal system and inhibits their range of motion and limits their movement. Sometimes these individuals suffer from diseases or injuries that are minor enough that therapy or non-invasive treatments are sufficient to treat their musculoskeletal system. However, when that individual suffers a severe enough injury or is fighting a major disease, surgery is required to attempt to repair the problem. Orthopaedic surgeons are responsible for operating on the musculoskeletal system in the human body and repairing the injuries and/or combating the diseases that attack it.

Orthopaedic surgeons specialize in treating the musculoskeletal system of the body, which is the collection of bones, muscles, ligaments, and other connective tissues that allow the body to move. Individuals can suffer a loss of range of motion or experience limited mobility as a result of sports injuries, degenerative disease, and congenital diseases that attack that musculoskeletal system.

Those wishing to become orthopaedic surgeons should prepare themselves for a hard battle to be rewarded with a degree and licensure to practice in this highly competitive field of medicine. The typical orthopaedic surgeon will move through the education system along the following path:

  • Four years of undergraduate study culminating in a Bachelor’s Degree, usually in biology, chemistry, or another field of science.
  • Four years of medical school training that includes two years of pre-clinical courses and an internship
  • Residency training

Because of the competitive nature of the field, orthopaedic surgeons undergo one of the longest residency training programs of any medical field. The typical residency program for an orthopaedic surgeon lasts five years with one year of general surgery training followed by four years of training in orthopedic surgery. Each year in the United States, roughly 650 students complete residency training.

Orthopaedic surgeons can go on to gain further training in a sub-specialty within orthopaedic surgery. The following is a list of possible sub-specialties within orthopaedic surgery:

  • Hand surgery
  • Shoulder and elbow surgery
  • Total joint reconstruction (arthroplasty)
  • Pediatric orthopedics
  • Foot and ankle surgery
  • Spine surgery
  • Musculoskeletal oncology
  • Surgical sports medicine
  • Orthopedic trauma

Two things are important to keep in mind regarding these sub-specialties orthopaedic surgeons can specialize in. First, these sub-specialties usually require further training in a fellowship program after completion of a residency. These fellowships can last one to two years depending upon research requirements. The other important thing to remember is that just because an individual specializes in one of these sub-specialties, they are not necessarily an orthopaedic surgeon. Neurologists, for example, specialize in spine surgery but are not orthopaedic surgeons.

Those who become orthopaedic surgeons will find themselves in a well paid, highly competitive field with a select group of peers who also survived a long and difficult educational program. According to the U.S. Department of Labor there are 20,400 practicing orthopaedic surgeons and residents (2009-2010), and they represent a mere 3-4% of all practicing physicians. Much like other career fields, the salary an orthopaedic surgeon can earn each year is often based upon where they live and work, the size of the business, and years of experience. The median salary for orthopaedic surgeons in the U.S. is $406,307 each year.