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Orthopedic Surgeon Education & License Requirements

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Orthopedics relates to the diagnosis and treatment of disorders of the musculoskeletal system. The musculoskeletal system includes the bones, joints, muscles, ligaments, tendons, nerves and skin. Orthopedic surgeons are physicians who specialize in surgical procedures. However, modern orthopedic surgeons also treat many conditions with non-surgical techniques. According to the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons, around 50 percent of an orthopedic surgeon's practice is devoted to non-surgical, medical management of injuries or disease.

Undergraduate Education

A bachelor's degree is required for admission to medical school. Until the 1990s, medical schools preferred candidates with degrees in the natural sciences such as chemistry, biochemistry or biology, but 21st-century medical schools are increasingly accepting candidates with a broad range of undergraduate academic backgrounds. Medical school admission is highly competitive, so it is essential to make good grades and earn a high Medical College Admission Test score.

Medical School

Medical school is a comprehensive four-year program. The first two years of med school include rigorous classroom study of subjects including anatomy, physiology, chemistry, biochemistry, pharmacology, psychology and medical ethics. The final two years of med school are spent in a series of rotations in internal medicine, family practice, obstetrics and gynecology, orthopedics, pediatrics, emergency medicine, psychiatry, and surgery working with experienced doctors. Getting a wide range of experience in medical practice gives medical students some perspective on the breadth of the medical profession, even if they have already decided on their specialty area.


If you want to be an orthopedic surgeon, you must complete a five-year residency program following medical school. The majority of the 650+ board-approved orthopedic residency programs require one year in a general surgery, internal medicine or pediatrics residency program, followed by four years of training in orthopedic surgery. However, some orthopedic surgery residency programs are still structured as a two-year general surgery residency followed by three years of clinical orthopedic studies. First-year residents work closely with experienced orthopedists, but fourth- and fifth-year residents typically practice with very limited supervision.

Medical License

Although you can apply for a resident physician license to practice medicine immediately after graduating from med school, a resident physician license only allows you to practice under the supervision of a physician holding a permanent license. You can apply for a five- or six-year "bundled" resident physician license in many states. You can apply for a permanent physician license as soon as you complete your residency program.

2016 Salary Information for Physicians and Surgeons

Physicians and surgeons earned a median annual salary of $204,950 in 2016, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. On the low end, physicians and surgeons earned a 25th percentile salary of $131,980, meaning 75 percent earned more than this amount. The 75th percentile salary is $261,170, meaning 25 percent earn more. In 2016, 713,800 people were employed in the U.S. as physicians and surgeons.