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Recently, a New York City college student wrote to ExploreHealthCareers.org to ask about careers in sports medicine. Because he asked us some great questions, we wanted to share our answers with you:
1. What's the difference between an orthopedist and a sports medicine physician?
A sports medicine physician focuses on non-surgical health care for the physically active individual. Sports medicine doctors treat patients to prevent injury, improve performance and enhance overall health.
An orthopedist (also known as an orthopaedic surgeon) is a physician who diagnoses and treats injuries, disorders and diseases of the body’s musculoskeletal system with an emphasis on surgical treatment. Some orthopedists specialize in certain areas of the body, like foot and ankle or the hand, shoulder and elbow. Others may focus on a certain field like sports medicine, as you may choose to do.
You can decide if you want to focus on sports medicine as an orthopedist or more generally as a sports medicine physician. Either way, you will need to attend medical school, either an allopathic or osteopathic school.
2. Can I study for one of the two with my bachelor's degree in PE? If not, what path can I take into sports medicine with my degree?
With a degree in physical education, you can continue on to medical school. If that’s what you choose to do, you should talk to an advisor at your school about whether you have all the necessary undergraduate prerequisite courses for application to medical school. You can also find information on the American Association of Medical Colleges and the American Association of Colleges of Osteopathic Medicine websites.
If you would rather not go to medical school, there are other careers closely related to sports medicine, like these:
- Certified athletic trainers are trained in preventing, recognizing, managing and rehabilitating injuries that result from physical activity. Your bachelor's degree may mean you meet the academic requirements to become an athletic trainer. Talk with your advisor to find out for sure.
- Exercise physiologists oversee the analysis, improvement and maintenance of health and fitness; rehabilitation of heart disease and other chronic diseases and disabilities; and the professional guidance and counsel of athletes and others interested in sports training. You will need a bachelor’s degree from an accredited program. If you want to specialize in cardiac rehabilitation, you will need to get a master’s degree.
- Kinesiotherapists develop and monitor exercise programs to help people regain muscle strength and function lost due to injury or disease. Becoming a kinesiotherapist requires a bachelor's degree in an approved major and clinical training. You may be able to use some of the courses you have already taken toward an approved degree. Talk to your advisor about what additional courses might be required.
To help in your decision making, take a look at the resources offered by the Career Exploration and Student Success Toolkit.
3. Can you also tell me the difference between sports medicine and physical therapy? Because I've looked at some colleges close to me and they have physical therapy degrees listed under sports medicine.
The difference between sports medicine and physical therapy is specialization. A physical therapist treats patients with all kinds of injuries and conditions, not just those related to sports. It’s a good career to consider too. As with many health careers, physical therapists can specialize so you could decide to specialize in sports-related injuries and conditions in your physical therapy practice.
4. Which schools in New York offer a graduate program in becoming a sports medicine physician? If so, what are the steps I have to take to become a sports medicine physician?
You should have a conversation with your advisor about the specifics of choosing a school, which will depend on a lot of factors. In the meantime, you can do some reading. Start here: