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Job Description of an Orthopedic Surgeon

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Orthopedic surgeons are physicians who spend more than a decade learning their craft. They treat patients of all ages suffering from a wide variety of ailments, from broken arms to artificial hips. They specialize in diagnosing, treating and repairing injuries, disorders and diseases affecting the musculoskeletal system. They practice their specialty in hospitals and surgical outpatient centers.

Duties and Responsibilities

For an orthopedic surgeon, each day's duties are determined by the needs of his patients. Orthopedic surgeons diagnose and assess patients' injuries or diseases through diagnostic testing, such as X-rays to look for broken bones or blood tests to check for rheumatoid arthritis. Despite being licensed surgeons, many orthopedic surgeons recommend and implement non-invasive treatments. According to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, as much as 50 percent of an orthopedic surgeon's practice is non-surgical. The surgeon may cast and splint limbs, recommend rehabilitative exercises, or prescribe supplements and medications to strengthen joints or minimize pain. If surgery is necessary, they repair the injury, disease or damage. They may plate broken bones, reattach tendons and ligaments, or perform joint or hip replacements, among other procedures.

Education and Training

Orthopedic surgeons undergo years of rigorous education and training before operating on patients. Their education starts in a bachelor's degree program, typically in pre-medical studies, biology or a similar field. After receiving an undergraduate degree, they attend an additional four years of medical school taking advanced courses in anatomy and physiology, pharmacology and biochemistry. They also participate in clinical rotations that introduce them to specialties in medicine, including surgery.

After medical school, orthopedic surgeons continue their training through five years of residency education. Typically, they spend one year of residency training in general surgery and four years in orthopedic surgery. Residents start out observing licensed surgeons and gradually become more involved in surgical procedures under supervision.

Licensure and Certification

Orthopedic surgeons must be licensed in the state they work in. Requirements vary slightly by state, but usually surgeons must have a degree from an approved medical school, complete an approved residency program and pass a licensing exam. Most commonly, doctors of medicine take the U.S. Medical Licensing Examination and doctors of osteopathy take the Comprehensive Osteopathic Medical Licensing Examination. The American Board of Orthopaedic Surgery offers board certification in orthopedic surgery to surgeons who complete an approved residency; have two years of work experience in orthopedic surgery; and pass written and oral exams to demonstrate their competency. While board certification is voluntary, it helps orthopedic surgeons showcase their professionalism and expertise.


The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, or BLS, projects that employment for all physicians and surgeons will 24 percent from 2010 to 2020. This growth rate is faster than average when compared to all other professions. As the population continues to grow and age, the demand for orthopedic surgeons will grow as well. For example, as more elderly people develop rheumatoid arthritis, there will be a higher need for orthopedic specialists to treat them.

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