Orthopedic surgeons are medical doctors who have completed at least six years of additional specialty training. Some orthopedists choose to specialize further by focusing their practice on the hands and upper extremities. The median salary for an orthopedic surgeon in the U.S. is $467,182, meaning half in the profession earn more and half earn less.
Surgeons specializing in the hand and upper extremity areas treat problems from congenital malformations (those present at birth) to injuries caused by trauma and overuse. These can include fractures, nerve disorders such as carpal tunnel syndrome, arthritis, tumors, sports injuries, and injuries to tendons, ligaments and other soft tissue. These surgeons meet with their patients and sometimes consult with other health-care professionals. They work as part of a surgical team.
The path to becoming an orthopedic surgeon is a long and arduous one, beginning with a bachelor's degree. Although there is no formal prerequisite for a major, successful medical school applicants should have a strong background in life sciences, mathematics, chemistry, physics and psychology. Medical school admissions are competitive. Students accepted for medical school for the 2017-2018 academic year had an average grade point average of 3.71 and a score of 510 on the Medical School Admissions Test (MCAT).
Medical school is four years of intense study. The first two years are lecture and laboratory courses in pharmacology and advanced life sciences. Students must pass Step 1 of the United States Medical Licensing Exam (USMLE) to continue their studies. The last two years place students in supervised clinical settings, where they learn and experience various branches of medicine while working with patients and other healthcare providers. Medical students take the second part of the USMLE in their fourth year of medical school to demonstrate their medical knowledge and diagnostic and clinical skills. The third and final part of the exam is taken during residency.
Medical residency is the additional training physicians undergo to practice a specialty. The length of residency varies. Surgical residencies require a minimum of five years. Following successful completion of the orthopedic residency, hand surgeons must complete a one-year fellowship in an accredited program, under the supervision of board-certified hand surgeons. An orthopedic fellowship salary averages $63,073 a year.
Orthopedic hand surgeons may be in individual or group practice. They meet with patients in office, clinical and hospital settings after patients receive referrals from primary care physicians. Surgery is typically performed in a hospital setting with team members that can include other surgeons, nurses, anesthesiologists and other health-care professionals.
Surgeons typically work 50 to 60 hours per week. The number of hours hand surgeons work per week depends on whether they are in solo or group practice. It also depends whether they are on call, and how often.
Salary and Job Outlook
Salaries for orthopedic surgeons usually range from $367,288 to $604,448 annually. A hand surgeon salary is comparable, depending on geographic location, years of experience and other factors. Hand surgeons are among the top earners in the medical profession. For example, a trauma surgeon salary averages $338,551 annually. A radiation oncologist salary averages $328,187.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics makes projections for physicians and surgeons as a group and does not distinguish by specialty practice. The job outlook through 2026 is expected to be strong, with a 13 percent growth rate that is above average when compared to all other jobs. According to the American Society for Surgery of the Hand, the demand for specialty practitioners continues to outpace the number of providers.