Updated on Dec 21, 2021, by Riley Nisbet

Orthopedic surgery, commonly called orthopedics, is a 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 are five years.

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.

During 2021’s Match cycle, 866 of 868 orthopedic surgery positions were filled. Of these filled positions, IMGs represented just eight seats. Five U.S. IMGs landed a seat in an orthopedic surgery residency, while only three non-U.S. IMGs did.

Read more about 2021’s Match numbers by clicking here.


Practicing as a Physician

Representative of 2021’s Match data, 87.9% of 19,069 currently practicing orthopedic surgeons graduated from U.S. medical schools. One reason the specialty is so competitive among U.S. medical graduates is its high pay. In 2021, the national average salary for orthopedic surgeons was $511,000.

While 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 technologies 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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