An orthopaedic surgeon is educated in the preservation, investigation, and restoration of the form and function of the extremities, spine, and associated structures by medical, surgical, and physical means. This specialist is involved with the care of patients whose musculoskeletal problems include congenital deformities, trauma, infections, tumors, metabolic disturbances of the musculoskeletal system, deformities, injuries, and degenerative diseases of the spine, hands, feet, knee, hip, shoulder, and elbow in children and adults. An orthopaedic surgeon is also concerned with primary and secondary muscular problems and the effects of central or peripheral nervous system lesions of the musculoskeletal system.
Specialty training required prior to certification: A minimum of five years (including Surgery training) plus two years in clinical practice before final certification is achieved.
Orthopaedics is the study of diseases and disorders of the muscles, ligaments, tendons and bones of the body in patients of all ages. This encompasses fractures, injuries and diseases of the spine, pelvis, arms and legs.
As the US population continues to age and be active, the demand for orthopaedic surgeons continues to increase, and joint replacements will continue to increase as a result. Arthritis accounted for 44 million office visits and 1 million hospital visits in 2004. In addition, 50 percent of all adults reported a chronic musculoskeletal condition, including osteoporosis. This accounts for more than twice that of chronic circulatory or pulmonary conditions.
Orthopaedics is a rewarding career for those who choose to enter the subspecialty. The surgeries performed typically are among the most reliable, cost-effective procedures in health care. In many cases, patients achieve relief of their symptoms within several weeks to months after surgery, and quickly return to their preoperative function. Commonly performed procedures include total joint replacement, fracture fixation and arthroscopic surgery of various joints. With orthopaedics being a surgical subspecialty, the ability to perform manual tasks in the operating room is required.
The field of orthopaedics is diverse, with a wide range of subspecialties and a significant variance in amount of time devoted to clinical or surgical practice in each subspecialty. Recent surveys report that, on average, orthopaedic surgeons work 61 hours per week, with two-thirds of orthopaedic surgeons working less than 65 hours each week, and take four weeks of vacation, not including eight working days for professional meetings and nine working days for education and training.
There are many options for practice in orthopaedics, including both urban and rural settings. Nearly 75 percent of surgeons are in private practice, with 45 percent reporting a teaching appointment at a hospital. While most surgeons work full time, 11 percent of current orthopaedic surgeons are part time. Almost 60 percent of orthopaedic surgeons report having completed at least one fellowship, with the most popular being sports medicine, adult reconstruction (total joints) and hand.
As is the case in most medical specialties, the salary of orthopaedic surgeons varies by subspecialty, experience and location. The median net income in 2007 was $356,000 for full-time orthopaedic surgeons. Surgeons who subspecialize and those in private practice have higher incomes. Many private practice orthopaedic surgeons are also part owners of imaging machines, surgical centers or hospitals as a source of supplementary income.