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Knowledge & Skills Needed to Be an Orthopedic Surgeon

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Orthopedic surgeons treat injuries and disorders affecting the spine and extremities such as the hands, knees, feet, hips, elbows and shoulders. They are medical professionals who undergo several years of postgraduate training as a prerequisite for certification. An orthopedic surgeon combines this education with additional skills in order to be successful in his medical practice.

Education and Skill Requirements

After earning an undergraduate degree and completing medical school, an orthopedic surgeon undergoes intensive residency training. The American Association of Medical Colleges notes on its website that aspiring orthopedic surgeons complete a four-year orthopedic surgery residency following a one-year general surgery residency. Some subspecialties may require an additional year of residency training. State, a career resources website, notes that orthopedic surgeons must be comfortable dealing with a fast-paced working environment. They need solid manual dexterity in order to perform complex surgical procedures and must be able to tolerate long hours, because some orthopedic surgeries can take many hours to complete.


Clinical training for aspiring orthopedic surgeons covers a variety of specialty areas, such as pediatrics, spinal surgery and orthopedic trauma. Residents participate in rotations that expose them to the emergency room as well as specialty clinics. At Mayo Clinic, orthopedic residents rotate through an amputee clinic and work with patients who have suffered spinal cord injuries, as well as those who are undergoing rehabilitation for sports-related injuries. Residents also take basic science courses that delve into topics such as biomechanics and prosthetics. They also attend labs where they learn how orthopedic appliances are used and develop the fine motor skills needed to perform successful surgeries.


The American Board of Orthopaedic Surgery awards certification to orthopedic surgeons. The ABOS notes that board certification is voluntary, but also observes that about 85 percent of physicians in the U.S. are board-certified in at least one specialty. To qualify for ABOS certification, a candidate must graduate from an accredited medical school and complete five years of residency training. Candidates take a written examination and, after about 22 months in practice, an oral examination. The written exam is 320 questions in length and the oral exam is based on cases submitted by the candidate. Certification is valid for 10 years.

Continuing Education

Orthopedic surgeons must stay abreast of new techniques and medical advances, and this is done by way of continuing education. The ABOS requires orthopedic surgeons to complete 240 credits of continuing education during a six-year period. These credits must include at least 20 credits earned through self-assessment examinations. Surgeons also undergo a peer review and their work is evaluated by hospital staff at their place of employment. A recertification exam is required; the exam covers general orthopedics as well as specialty areas.


A.K. Jayne has written and edited print and online content since 2006. In addition, she has legal assistant/paralegal experience in areas including wills and trusts and family law. Her articles have appeared in the "Philadelphia Inquirer," "New Jersey Record" and "Burlington County Times." Jayne completed an Associated Press internship and is an alumna of Syracuse University’s Newhouse School of Public Communications.

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