Sports participation has become an integral part of many lives, with a staggering 20.3% of the population actively engaged in various athletic activities. Naturally, the level of risk associated with sports varies significantly. For instance, contact sports like football inherently carry a higher likelihood of injuries compared to noncontact sports such as swimming.

However, it’s essential to recognize that regardless of the sport, there is always the potential for injury. These injuries may stem from direct contact with other players or from the strain of overuse or improper techniques. This is precisely where the field of sports medicine comes into play, offering specialized care to athletes of all levels. If you’re intrigued by this dynamic and impactful field, read on to discover how to become a sports medicine physician.

✅ Request information on AUA's MD program TODAY!


  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

What Is a Sports Medicine Physician?

A sports medicine physician is a specialized healthcare provider dedicated to promoting the well-being of athletes and individuals committed to leading an active, health-conscious lifestyle. These physicians undergo extensive training that equips them with an understanding of non-surgical methods for treating and preventing various illnesses and injuries commonly encountered by athletes.

The expertise of these professionals extends to many aspects of sports-related health, including rehabilitation, injury prevention, and performance optimization. They are essential partners in pursuing optimal physical performance and well-being for those who lead active lifestyles.

What Does a Sports Medicine Physician Do?


Sports medicine physicians play a pivotal role in diagnosing, treating, and preventing a wide array of conditions of athletes and individuals dedicated to an active lifestyle. Some of the duties and responsibilities of these professionals include:

  • Identifying and managing injuries like sprains, strains, fractures, and dislocations commonly encountered in athletic activities
  • Designing rehabilitation programs to restore and improve mobility, strength, and function after an injury or surgery
  • Creating personalized treatment plans tailored to each patient’s specific injury or condition, considering factors like age, activity level, and overall health
  • Overseeing rehabilitation programs to aid in the recovery and strengthening of injured muscles, joints, and tissues
  • Performing comprehensive assessments to ensure athletes are in optimal health before engaging in competitive sports
  • Identifying any potential risks or underlying health issues
  • Offering expert advice on diet, exercise, and lifestyle modifications to enhance athletic performance and overall well-being
  • Managing chronic conditions such as asthma, diabetes, and heart conditions
  • Administering injections, such as corticosteroids or joint lubricants
  • Performing minor procedures like casting and splinting
  • Working closely with orthopedic surgeons, physical therapists, nutritionists, and other specialists 
  • Engaging in research to advance the field and stay updated on the latest techniques and treatments in sports medicine

How To Become a Sports Medicine Physician

On the path to becoming a sports medicine physician, one must complete specific sports medicine training and educational requirements. These steps help develop the theoretical knowledge and skills necessary to excel in this field. So, let’s look at each step in more detail:

Earn a bachelor’s degree

The initial step on the path to becoming a sports medicine physician is the attainment of a bachelor’s degree. This foundational educational milestone lays the groundwork for the rigorous medical training that follows.

While there isn’t a particular sports medicine major you must pursue, many individuals opt for majors in biology, chemistry, kinesiology, or exercise science, offering an excellent academic framework and equipping students with a comprehensive understanding of human physiology, anatomy, and related sciences. Moreover, coursework in subjects like biomechanics, nutrition, and exercise physiology provides a crucial knowledge base for sports medicine as well as medical school prerequisites.

Take and pass the MCAT

Next, aspiring sports medicine physicians prepare for and pass the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT). This is a standardized exam that assesses a candidate’s proficiency in natural, behavioral, and social science concepts through questions in four sections: 

  • Biological and Biochemical Foundations of Living Systems
  • Chemical and Physical Foundations of Biological Systems
  • Psychological, Social, and Biological Foundations of Behavior
  • Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skills

This exam is a pivotal component of the medical school application process, evaluating readiness for the demanding academic journey ahead and increasing the chances of admission to medical school. 

To prepare, candidates often engage in comprehensive review courses, utilize practice materials, and dedicate focused study time to master the core subjects assessed in the exam. 

Achieving a competitive MCAT score opens the door to advancing into medical school, where specialized training in sports medicine will further unfold.

Complete a four-year medical school program

Arguably, the most essential sports medicine physician schooling years are the four years spent in medical school. During the initial two years, students delve into fundamental medical sciences, encompassing subjects like anatomy, physiology, pharmacology, and pathology. These courses equip future sports medicine physicians with a comprehensive understanding of the human body and its functioning, forming the cornerstone of their medical expertise.

Then, in the latter half of medical school, students transition into clinical rotations. This hands-on training provides invaluable exposure to various medical specialties, including sports medicine. Under the guidance of experienced practitioners, students engage directly with patients, gaining practical experience in diagnosing and treating a wide range of conditions, including sports-related injuries.

Complete a medical residency program

After medical school, for aspiring sports medicine physicians, the next critical step is completing a residency program. It’s important to note that “sports medicine” is not formally recognized as a distinct residency training specialty in the United States. As such, physicians aspiring to specialize in sports medicine often pursue residencies in related fields like family medicine, emergency medicine, or internal medicine.

During the residency phase, physicians engage in immersive clinical experiences, which typically last around three years. This foundational training equips them with invaluable skills in primary care, which forms an integral component of sports medicine practice.

Secure a fellowship

Following the completion of a residency program, physicians can then pursue additional training through a sports medicine fellowship program. This focused fellowship helps gain and develop expertise in sports-related injuries, exercise physiology, and performance optimization. It provides hands-on experience in clinics, training facilities, and sports events, allowing fellow doctors to develop specialized skills crucial for effective sports medicine practice, which would not be possible only through a residency program. 

This combined educational trajectory ensures that sports medicine physicians in the United States are equipped to provide comprehensive care to athletes and individuals leading active lifestyles.

Get a license

Licensure is another fundamental pillar for aspiring sports medicine physicians, serving as a formal validation of their proficiency and qualification to practice independently. It plays a pivotal role in upholding the standards of patient care and ensuring the safety and well-being of those seeking sports medicine services.

Securing a medical license involves a comprehensive assessment of an individual’s educational background, clinical training, and ethical standing through a standardized medical licensing examination. This evaluation confirms that sports medicine physicians have completed the required educational and training prerequisites, showcasing their competence in delivering high-quality healthcare tailored to athletes and individuals leading active lifestyles.

Become board certified

Lastly, becoming certified in sports medicine is a significant achievement for physicians specializing in this field. To be eligible, physicians must meet specific criteria set forth by their state’s certification board, including years of practice and continuing education. The process also typically involves passing a comprehensive examination assessing their knowledge and skills in sports-related healthcare.

Certification typically requires ongoing professional development, and re-certification is necessary after a set period.

Essential Skills of a Sports Medicine Physician

Success as a sports medicine physician requires a blend of specialized knowledge, technical proficiency, and, crucially, a diverse set of skills. 

Soft skills

Some of the essential soft skills that help physicians pave the way for success in this dynamic and demanding field:

  • Ability to convey complex medical information clearly and empathetically
  • Understanding of the physical and emotional challenges faced by athletes
  • Quick thinking and adaptability
  • Teamwork and collaboration skills 
  • Problem-solving skills

Hard skills

In addition to these skills, you must also have the following technical competencies:

  • Proficiency in conducting thorough orthopedic examinations, including assessing range of motion, joint stability, and muscle strength
  • Competence in interpreting various imaging modalities such as X-rays, MRI, and ultrasound 
  • Proficiency in administering injections, aspirations, and performing minor procedures
  • Expertise in evaluating and managing concussions
  • Understanding the physiological effects of exercise and tailoring rehabilitation and training programs accordingly

Career Growth and Opportunities

The job outlook for sports medicine physicians, considering the broader landscape of physicians and surgeons, appears promising. The overall employment of these healthcare professionals is projected to grow at a rate of 3% from 2022 to 2032, aligning with the average growth rate for all occupations. 

This growth reflects the continued demand for specialized healthcare services, including those provided by sports medicine physicians, as the expertise of these professionals becomes increasingly valuable in ensuring the well-being and optimal performance of athletes and individuals dedicated to an active lifestyle.

Beyond the role of a sports medicine physician, this field offers a spectrum of alternative yet related career opportunities. These professions share a common focus on enhancing physical well-being, performance, and recovery, albeit through distinct avenues. Individuals passionate about sports medicine can explore these diverse roles, each contributing significantly to the realm of sports and exercise science:

  • Exercise physiologist
  • Athletic trainer
  • Physical therapist
  • Sports psychologist
  • Orthopedic surgeon specializing in sports medicine
  • Nutritionist or dietitian specializing in sports nutrition
  • Strength and conditioning coach
  • Rehabilitation specialist

The Financial Perspective

The average salary for sports medicine physicians, like other specialists in the medical field, is approximately $229,300. Nonetheless, it’s crucial to understand that this figure can vary depending on various factors. These may encompass the physician’s years of experience, the location of their practice, and the type of healthcare facility they are affiliated with. 

These elements collectively contribute to the earning potential of sports medicine physicians, making it essential to consider these variables when assessing potential salaries in this specialized field.

Challenges and Considerations

Becoming a sports medicine physician demands a steadfast commitment to rigorous education and continuous learning, as the field is ever-evolving with new research and treatment modalities. Balancing the demands of a busy educational and clinical schedule with the need for ongoing professional development can be a delicate matter. Yet, the dynamic nature of the field ensures that each day brings new opportunities for growth and impact. 

So, despite these challenges, the immense rewards of helping athletes achieve their full potential and supporting individuals in leading healthy, active lives make every hurdle a worthy endeavor.

The Bottom Line

Becoming a sports medicine physician requires years of dedicated learning and training. Yet, the immeasurable fulfillment that comes from positively influencing the performance and well-being of individuals in the realm of sports medicine is a testament to the remarkable impact this profession holds. It is a worthwhile journey, for the rewards extend beyond personal accomplishment.

If you’re passionate about preserving athletes’ dreams and ensuring they can pursue their passions without the hindrance of injuries or other medical conditions, consider embarking on this transformative path through our medical school and equip yourself with the knowledge and skills needed to make a lasting difference in the lives of athletes.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

What is the highest-paying job in sports medicine?

Orthopedic surgeons have among the highest earning potential in the field of sports medicine, with an average mean annual wage of $371,400.

Is becoming a sports medicine physician hard?

Yes, becoming a sports medicine physician requires extensive education and training, but the rewards and impact on athletes’ lives make it a fulfilling endeavor for those passionate about the field.

✅ Request information on AUA's MD program TODAY!


  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.