How many times, as you’re immersed in the excitement of a football game, have you witnessed a player take a fall or endure a brutal tackle, leaving the field wincing in pain? Or, as children, how frequently has the joy of a game been abruptly halted due to an unforeseen accident? In such moments, whether it’s a fractured bone resulting from an unexpected fall, a lingering discomfort in a joint, or a sports-related injury demanding immediate attention, orthopedic surgeons stand ready to restore mobility and ease discomfort.

Curious about the journey to becoming an orthopedic surgeon? Dive into the world of musculoskeletal expertise and discover the orthopedic surgeon education requirements that shape these medical professionals. From the foundational steps to the specialized training, uncover the details that pave the way for a rewarding career in orthopedic surgery.

What Is an Orthopedic Surgeon? 

Orthopedic surgeons are highly specialized physicians who focus on the diagnosis, treatment, and surgical management of musculoskeletal conditions. These medical professionals possess extensive expertise in addressing issues related to the bones, joints, tendons, muscles, ligaments, and other elements of the musculoskeletal system. Their scope of practice encompasses a wide range of conditions, including fractures, sports injuries, degenerative diseases, congenital disorders, and musculoskeletal trauma.

What Does an Orthopedic Surgeon Do?


The roles and responsibilities of an orthopedic surgeon can vary, mainly if they have pursued specialization in specific areas such as hands, feet, joints, etc. Nevertheless, there are core day-to-day duties that these surgeons commonly encounter in a majority of cases they treat, like:

  • Meeting with patients to identify and diagnose injuries
  • Evaluating whether a particular issue necessitates surgery; if not, suggesting nonsurgical treatments
  • Recommending and interpreting diagnostic imaging, including radiographs, ultrasound, and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)
  • Conducting surgeries like bone grafting and internal fixation using screws and plates to stabilize fractures
  • Collaborating with radiologists, anesthesiologists, physical therapists, and other medical professionals
  • Performing post-surgery follow-up examinations on patients

Orthopedic Surgeon Education Requirements

Becoming an orthopedic surgeon is a complex and demanding process involving several years of rigorous academic and clinical training. As a crucial role in the healthcare industry, adhering to the prescribed orthopedic surgeon education requirements is essential. This guarantees that aspiring surgeons acquire the necessary theoretical knowledge and practical skills to perform the duties associated with this esteemed profession proficiently.

Get a bachelor’s degree

Firstly, aspiring orthopedic surgeons must obtain a bachelor’s degree, preferably in a science-related field such as biology, chemistry, or a pre-medical program. Such programs ensure you have a strong foundation in the basic sciences, helping you understand important topics for medical studies. By focusing on biology and chemistry in your early studies, you will be better prepared for the later stages of medical education, as this will provide you with a strong understanding of how the human body functions. Therefore, this phase of education is critical for future orthopedic surgeons to acquire the necessary knowledge for medical school.

Study and pass the MCAT

Usually, as you approach the end of your third year in undergraduate studies, it is recommended that you plan the Medical College Admissions Test (MCAT). The MCAT is a standardized exam designed to assess the readiness of aspiring surgeons for the rigorous medical school curriculum. It plays a crucial role in the admissions process for most medical schools in both the United States and Canada.

Complete a four-year medical school program

After completing your undergraduate degree program and successfully passing the MCAT, the subsequent step entails four years of rigorous study in medical school. In the first two years, you will mainly focus on coursework that covers fundamental medical subjects, including anatomy, biochemistry, patient interactions, and pharmacology. However, during the latter part of medical school, you will participate in practical experiences through clinical rotations.

Concurrently with your academic endeavors, you’ll begin the process of obtaining your medical license by passing the initial two steps of the United States Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE).

Complete a medical residency program 

As part of your surgeon training, enrolling in a residency program is the next step. Typically, an orthopedic surgery residency lasts for five years, with one year dedicated to general surgery. Once you successfully complete the program, you’ll be ready to work with patients and perform surgeries under the supervision of a licensed attending physician.

During this period, you must also complete step 3, the final phase of the USMLE. This transition marks a crucial step towards becoming an independent and proficient orthopedic surgeon, indicating your readiness to pursue a medical license.

Secure a fellowship 

While not mandatory, pursuing a fellowship is highly encouraged for orthopedic surgeons aiming to refine their expertise. For one to three years, fellowships provide specialized training beyond standard residency programs. In these programs, surgeons can explore specific subspecialties. Some popular choices include:

  • Foot and ankle surgery
  • Hand surgery
  • Hip and knee replacement
  • Pediatric orthopedic surgery
  • Shoulder and elbow surgery
  • Spine surgery

During this stage, fellow doctors work closely with experts and gain exposure to advanced surgical techniques and research.

Become licensed

In any state, obtaining a valid medical license is mandatory to practice medicine, including surgery. So, the next step to becoming an orthopedic surgeon is becoming licensed. The application process usually involves submitting proof of your degree and completing all three steps of the USMLE, with additional requisites varying by state.

Become board certified

Lastly, earning board certification helps demonstrate your commitment to excellence and the highest patient care standards. The process focuses on evaluating your knowledge, skills, and expertise through written and oral examinations, along with a comprehensive review of clinical practice and patient outcomes. While board certification is optional, it can help distinguish you as a highly qualified specialist and showcase your dedication to professionalism and continuous learning.

Essential Skills of an Orthopedic Surgeon

To succeed as an orthopedic surgeon, one needs a unique blend of technical and soft skills, such as:

  • Surgical proficiency
  • Expertise in diagnosing and treating musculoskeletal disorders through both surgical and nonsurgical methods
  • Proficiency in pediatric orthopedics, understanding the challenges of growth and development
  • Communication skills
  • Understanding of rehabilitation principles
  • Implementation of physical therapy interventions for post-injury or surgery recovery
  • Competence in interpreting medical imaging 
  • Collaboration skills

Future Outlook

The job outlook for orthopedic surgeons is expected to show moderate growth, with a projected 2% increase in employment, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). This expansion will generate approximately 300 job openings in the coming years.

This demand for orthopedic surgeons can be attributed to various factors, including an aging population that often requires musculoskeletal care as well as an increasing emphasis on sports medicine and injury treatment—with close to 12,000 professional athletes in the United States and approximately one-fourth of the adult population actively engaged in sports, there is a substantial potential for injuries and therapeutic interventions. Therefore, the stability in growth for this profession underlines the ongoing importance of orthopedic surgeons in maintaining and improving the well-being of individuals across different age groups.

The Financial Perspective

The importance of orthopedic surgeons’ expertise is highlighted by their substantial median annual wages, with figures at $239,000 or more, excluding pediatric orthopedic surgeons. This high earning potential reflects the critical demand for their specialized skills and the complexity of the conditions they treat.

As these professionals continue to navigate intricate surgical procedures, diagnose musculoskeletal disorders, and contribute to patients’ rehabilitation, their compensation reflects their years of extensive training and education as well as the vital role they play in restoring mobility, alleviating pain, and enhancing the overall quality of life for individuals in need of orthopedic care.

The Bottom Line

In conclusion, the importance of orthopedic surgeons in our healthcare landscape cannot be overstated. Their role in restoring mobility, alleviating pain, and enhancing the overall quality of life highlights the significance of the comprehensive educational journey they undertake. The complexity of musculoskeletal conditions demands a thorough understanding and mastery of surgical and nonsurgical techniques—a proficiency honed through years of education and training.

To embark on this fulfilling path, consider joining us at the American University of Antigua (AUA) Medical School. Here, you can acquire the knowledge and skills essential for a career in orthopedic surgery, contributing to the well-being of countless individuals in need. Join AUA and pave the way for a rewarding journey in orthopedic surgery.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

What is an orthopedic surgeon?

An orthopedic surgeon is a medical professional specializing in the diagnosis, treatment, and surgical management of various conditions and injuries related to the musculoskeletal system, including bones, joints, muscles, tendons, ligaments, and so on.

How long does it take to become an orthopedic surgeon?

Becoming an orthopedic surgeon takes around 13 to 15 years—four years of bachelor studies, four years of medical school, and five years of residency in orthopedic surgery. In addition to these requirements, some may pursue additional fellowship training, lasting one to two years.

What degree is best for orthopedic surgery?

There is no specific “best” degree for orthopedic surgery, although aspiring surgeons often pursue degrees in biological sciences, chemistry, or a related field during their undergraduate studies. The important thing is to meet the prerequisites for medical school, which commonly include biology, chemistry, physics, and mathematics courses.

Is becoming an orthopedic surgeon worth it?

Generally, yes. Orthopedic surgeons play a crucial role in enhancing the quality of life for patients, and the profession can be financially rewarding. 

Is orthopedic surgery hard?

Orthopedic surgery is considered a challenging and demanding specialty due to the complexity of the musculoskeletal system and the variety of conditions encountered. However, for individuals passionate about this field and dedicated to continuous learning and improvement, the challenges are often outweighed by the rewarding nature of the work and the positive impact on patients’ lives.