Orthopedic surgery, commonly called orthopedics, is the medical specialty that focuses on assessing and correcting issues impacting the hands, feet, arms, legs, and spine through surgical procedures. Surgeons who specialize in orthopedic surgery are referred to as orthopedic surgeons.

While orthopedic surgeons may see cases that require similar surgeries, the cause of the injury can vary greatly. Individuals may be referred to an orthopedic surgeon following a sports-related injury, complications from a disease/infection, or trauma caused by an accident. Orthopedic surgeons treat broken bones, torn ligaments, knee pain, back pain, osteoporosis, and arthritis. The goal of this specialty is to improve a patient’s mobility and, consequently, their quality of life.

For information on the path to becoming an orthopedic surgeon and what it’s like to practice as one, continue reading below.



Once an individual interested in becoming an orthopedic surgeon has graduated from medical school, they will need to enroll in a specialty-specific residency program. Orthopedic surgery residencies last between four and five years.

According to the American Council of Graduate Medical Education, between 2018 to 2019, 4,125 individuals participated in an orthopedic surgery residency program. 67 of these individuals, which is just shy of 2%, identified as international medical graduates. For IMGs, orthopedic surgery is one of the more difficult specialties to match into.

Within the specialty of orthopedic surgery, there are two subspecialties. These include orthopedic sports medicine and surgery of the hand. If an individual wants to be certified in one of these subspecialties, they must complete a supplemental two-year fellowship.


Practicing as a Physician

At present, there are nearly 25,000 certified orthopedic surgeons in the U.S. As demand surges for surgeons in this specialty, so does their income. In 2019, orthopedic surgeons had an average salary more substantial than that of any other medical specialty. The average annual income was reported to be around $482,000. No wonder there is so much competition for orthopedic surgery residency programs.

Some medical graduates may have their sight on orthopedic surgery for the income alone. Orthopedic surgeons warn against this as the specialty is exceptionally demanding. Orthopedic surgeons must have a solid knowledge base of the complex musculoskeletal system found in humans. It also requires many years of formal education followed by constant on-the-job training. New technology that can make surgical procedures more accurate is constantly introduced. This profession requires orthopedic surgeons to learn new procedures so they can remain relevant in the field and provide their patients with the best care possible.

This job is not without its rewards, though. Orthopedic surgeons can make everyday life easier for their patients. Most times, patients cannot thank them enough for this.


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