When your passion for the game meets a passion for helping others through health care, you may just find the perfect career in sports medicine in its many varied incarnations. A sports medicine physician is a doctor in the traditional sense, but with special training in sports-related injuries and the needs of athletes.
Sports medicine as a distinct field is a rather new health concentration, as athletes once simply went to general practitioners to assess their injuries. But those working in the field can attest to the unique issues athletes face, and with specialized training, they are better equipped to help prevent, treat, and rehabilitate players recovering from sports-related injuries, guiding them on the journey back to top physical condition.
Distinct from other health professionals often associated with sports, such as physical therapists, dieticians, and athletic trainers, sports medicine physicians are an integral part of the team.
Sports medicine physicians work with athletes and coaches and may even be present during games, assessing injuries on the field as they happen, such as concussions, sprains, bone fractures, contusions, and cardiac issues. Collaborating with physical therapists, they also recommend and facilitate rehabilitation methods and eventually clear players to return to the season (or game).
Regarding preventive measures, sports medicine physicians may recommend exercise or diet regimens that are safe for their patients and also helpful in meeting their training goals, such as strength and conditioning programs. Sports physicians may also advise athletes dealing with chronic conditions as they affect their performance, including asthma and diabetes. Finally, sports medicine physicians don’t just treat professional athletes—their care can be beneficial for recreational athletes and non-athletes alike, such as those who may want to begin an athletic training program.
According to the American Medical Society for Sports Medicine, sport medicine specialists typically have the standard medical training: four years of undergrad, four years of medical school, and an additional four to five years of residency and fellowship specific to sports medicine. They should also be board certified (like other physicians) in areas like physical, internal, or emergency medicine. Practitioners should pass a sports medicine certification exam as well.
An undergraduate degree through to the Doctor of Medicine (M.D.) or Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine (D.O.) is needed to practice sports medicine.
Growth for physicians in all categories is very good, estimated to increase by 24% (faster than the national average) in the next eight years, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Salary.com estimates that physicians specializing in sports medicine earn an average $200,682 per year.