Orthopedics is the medical specialty devoted to the diagnosis, care and treatment of musculoskeletal disorders. These disorders include diseases and injuries of the bones, joints, muscles, ligaments, tendons, nerves and skin. Careers in the field of orthopedics include orthopedic surgery, orthopedic technology and orthopedic nursing, which includes advanced practice nursing. Each has a vital role to play in patient care.
Orthopedic surgeons spend about half their time in the operating room, according to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons. They also use medical, physical and rehabilitative methods, in addition to surgery. Orthopedic surgeons treat fractures, dislocations, torn ligaments, tendon injuries, back pain, congenital deformities and arthritis. They follow the typical educational path in medicine: four years of college, four years of medical school and about five years of residency or post-graduate education. Some programs require the physician to spend several years in general surgery before moving to the practice of orthopedic surgery. Orthopedic surgeons must be licensed to practice and most are also board-certified. The average salary of an orthopedic surgeon was $501,808 in 2011, according to the American Medical Group Association.
Orthopedic nursing began in Victorian England under Dame Agnes Hunt, a nurse who was crippled by septic arthritis as a child. Today, orthopedic nurses may work in dedicated orthopedic units or in general units that serve orthopedic patients, such as the intensive care unit or pediatrics. Orthopedic nurses may be either registered nurses or licensed practical nurses. The RN spends two to four years to obtain an associate degree, nursing diploma or bachelor’s degree in nursing. LPNs spend one year in a college, technical-vocational school or university. Both must be licensed and RNs may be certified. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports RNs earned an average annual salary of $69,110 in 2011 and LPNs earned $42,040 a year.
Advanced Practice Nurses
Advanced practice nurses earn a master’s degree in nursing -- although some have doctorates -- and are authorized to perform physician-like tasks. They diagnose disease and injuries; treat illness; order diagnostic tests, such as laboratory tests and X-rays; and prescribe medications. Advanced practice nurses in orthopedics include nurse practitioners and clinical nurse specialists. Either may perform direct patient care, but NPs more often manage the health care of a group of patients just as a physician would. Clinical nurse specialists more often serve as expert consultants and educators or work on improving healthcare systems. Advanced practice nurses must be licensed and may be certified. The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s Initiative on the Future of Nursing says clinical nurse specialists earned $72,856 a year in 2010 and nurse practitioners earned $85,025 a year.
The orthopedic technologist may be trained in a school approved by the National Association of Orthopedic Technologists or on the job. Ortho techs trained in approved schools receive either a certificate or an associate degree. Ortho techs assist the orthopedic surgeon in the practice of medicine and orthopedic nurses in the care of patients. Ortho techs apply and remove casts, manage patients in traction and assist the surgeon in the operating room. Licensing is not required for ortho techs and certification is optional. Salaries for ortho techs ranged from $34,104 to $50,896 a year in 2010, according to the Medical Careers Institute at Coordinated Health.