How can I become an orthopedic surgeon? Schools, Cost & Salary

If you, a family member, or a friend have not suffered any heavy physical trauma that got the bones badly damaged, then you’ve probably not learned of “orthopedic surgeons” or have an idea of what they do.

Orthopedics is a specialty in medical practice that deals with the handling of acute injuries, congenital and acquired disorders, chronic bone disorders, and every other problem associated with soft tissues, ligaments, nerves, and muscles.

Orthopedic surgeons or orthopedic doctors are very important components of the health care system. Part of what they do is helping restore hope to people who have been traumatized in parts of their limbs.

In this article, you will learn how to become an orthopedic surgeon, what job duties are there for you and schools where you can acquire your training.

Who is an Orthopedic Surgeon?

An orthopedic surgeon, or doctor, is a licensed professional physician who has been trained to examine, diagnose, and treat diseases and injuries of the musculoskeletal system. The musculoskeletal system has the function of supporting and stabilizing the movement of the human body.

In other words, an orthopedic surgeon is a doctor that takes care of bones, joints, ligaments, muscles, tendons, and nerves.

There are so many specialties. Some orthopedic surgeons may specialize in specific areas of the musculoskeletal system such as hip and knee, foot and ankle, shoulder and elbow, hand, spine. Some have gone so far in the profession that they can handle any kind of condition. These ones are called general orthopedic doctors.

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What does an Orthopedic Surgeon do?

Orthopedic specialists usually use advanced techniques and technologies to perform surgeries and can also recommend treatments and therapies that help patients with bone, joint, ligament, and muscle injuries to recuperate.

These specialists also help patients with bone diseases and infections of the bone such as osteoporosis and arthritis. They usually advise patients on how to strengthen weak muscles and perform surgeries. Some surgeons repair broken bones and soft tissues, while others correct congenital defects and injuries.

Usually, bone surgeons work closely with other health care providers and often serve as their consultants when the need for their services arises.

Aside from their professional inclinations, some orthopedic specialists may be involved in education as lecturers or researchers. Sometimes they may practice in synergy with other orthopedic doctors in what is called group specialty.

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Some other conditions that orthopedic doctors handle include the following:

  • Fractures, sprains, and strains
  • Osteoporosis
  • Spine disorders (e.g., sciatica, scoliosis, ruptured disc)
  • Arthritis
  • Bone tumors
  • Cerebral palsy
  • Club foot, knock knees, bow legs, bunions, hammertoes
  • Dislocations

Specialties in Orthopedic Surgery

In the field of orthopedic surgery, bone doctors may choose to practice general orthopedic surgery, or they can choose to pursue any of the following specialties:

  • Shoulder and Elbows
  • Spine
  • Sports Medicine
  • Trauma and Fractures
  • Arthroscopy
  • Pediatric
  • Rehabilitation
  • Reconstructive Surgery
  • Foot and Ankle
  • Hand
  • Joint Replacement
  • Musculoskeletal Oncology

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What are the Requirements to be an Orthopedic Surgeon?

Before you become a successful bone doctor, there are a number of requirements that you must meet. See here some of the requirements that you must meet.

The very first step to take while becoming an orthopedic surgeon is obtaining a bachelor’s degree. But first, you will need to pursue high school courses which lead to a career in orthopedic medicine. They must include topics in biology, chemistry, anatomy, physiology, and physics.

These courses can help you prepare for the Medical School Admission Test (MCAT), a standardized exam that tests the candidate’s knowledge in the field of physical and biological sciences, verbal reasoning and writing skills, and critical thinking skills.

Your training in medical school will last about 4 years and you will be using the first two years of the program for theory and practical sessions. During this period you will study some of the foundational courses in medicine such as anatomy, physiology, pharmacology, medical ethics, and medical law.

During the last two years, you will complete the clinic and hospital ward sessions under the guidance of experienced doctors. The clinical ward sessions offer opportunities to gain practical experience by diagnosing and treating patients.

In a nutshell, the following are the major requirements to become an orthopedic specialist.

  • Acquire a high school certificate with a science background
  • Go to Medical school
  • Complete your residency
  • Pass residency exam
  • Get certified

I will explain all of these in detail in the lines to come.

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Which Schools Offer Programs in Orthopedic Medicine?

Students who wish to pursue a career in orthopedic surgery can live out their dreams by going through medical school. There are many orthopedic schools in the United States that provide training for this career.

Below are some of the notable schools in the United States where you can pursue your training in orthopaedic surgery.

The schools here have ranked by USNEWS to be the best in this field.

  • Johns Hopkins University
  • Duke University
  • Harvard University
  • University of Pennsylvania
  • The University of California – San Francisco
  • University of Michigan – Ann Arbor
  • Washington University in St. Louis
  • Columbia University

Johns Hopkins University

The John Hopkins Department of Orthopaedic Surgery was founded in 1900 by William Stewart Halsted.

Johns Hopkins Department of Orthopaedic Surgery is committed to providing quality, compassionate care for patients and their families. Their team of lecturers includes specialists in the fields of foot and ankle, hand, hip and knee, oncology, pediatrics, shoulder and elbow, spine, sports medicine, and trauma. Whether you are seeking care for a sports-related injury or a condition related to aging, overuse, traumatic accident or for revision surgery, there is an expert who can help improve your quality of life, range of motion and mobility.

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Interestingly, Johns Hopkins Department of Orthopaedic Surgery has been ranked Number 1 in the list of best orthopedic school in the United States.

Duke University

The Department of Orthopaedic Surgery’s mission is to provide compassionate, cost-effective, and high-quality patient care to all patients. Faculty members perform cutting-edge research that translates into improved patient care at Duke and around the world.

The department also is dedicated to training the next generation of surgeons in an environment that challenges and educates them across a spectrum of disciplines including patient care, research, and academic pursuit.

This school has been ranked Number 2 in the list of best orthopedic school in the states.

Harvard University

Harvard University is the 3rd best university to become a Bone doctor. Bone surgeons at this school are among the best in the country.

Preventive treatments, surgeries, and non-surgical management are all options that Bone surgeons offer to their patients.

University of Pennsylvania

The Department of Orthopaedic Surgery at the UPenn School of Medicine offers a wide variety of orthopedic subspecialties to students pursuing a career to become orthopedic specialists.

At UPenn, the Orthopedic specialists are highly skilled and highly specialized and have gotten a place as the fourth-best in the United States.

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See the other orthopedic schools here:

Steps to becoming an Orthopedic Surgeon: Requirements

Below is a step to step guide on how to become a successful orthopedic specialist.

Attend a medical school

There are either of two degrees that you must have as a bone doctor. A bone surgeon must have either a doctor of medicine (M.D.) or doctor of osteopathic medicine (D.O.) degree. Both degrees require you to go through four years of graduate-level study in an approved American or Canadian medical or osteopathic school. But before this, you would have completed an undergraduate medical degree which will for 4 years.

Pursue a Residency Program

After your undergraduate, you will need to pursue five years of post-graduate residency training. The American Board of Orthopaedic Surgery (ABOS) requires candidates for board certification to complete five years of post-graduate residency training. In the first year of the training, you will receive training in trauma surgery, burn care, vascular surgery and other areas outside of orthopedic surgery. The remaining four years will feature sessions on training in adult orthopedics and a year of training in orthopedic surgical treatment of fractures in trauma, as well as six months each of training in pediatric orthopedics and basic or clinical specialties.

Write ABOS Examination

The next you will need to do after your residency program is apply for the American Board of Orthopaedic Surgery written examination for board certification. This computerized multiple-choice examination includes 310 to 320 questions that cover knowledge of orthopedic injuries and conditions and how to apply that knowledge to proper treatment. Thirty-three percent of the exam focuses on reconstruction procedures in adults. The next thing that follows after you have passed this level is your certification.

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Oral Examination

After 22 months of practice and satisfactory peer review, a candidate for board certification can take the ABOS oral examination. This examination is based on 10 of 12 actual cases that the candidate must submit to the ABOS before he takes the exam.

The examination itself consists of three 35-minute sessions in which examiners, all of whom are board-certified orthopedic surgeons, ask questions about the techniques followed in treating each case. Each candidate who passes this examination is awarded the title of “Diplomate of the American Board of Orthopaedic Surgery,” which he must renew every 10 years by demonstrating continued competence as an orthopedic surgeon.


An aspiring orthopedic specialist who has passed the written and oral board certification examination is considered “board eligible.” Board certification requires 22 months of practice after which the candidate can be fully certified as an orthopedic surgeon.

How to become a Bone doctor: Frequently Asked Questions

How long does it take to become an orthopedic surgeon?

Can I become an orthopedic surgeon online?

No, this is not possible because you will be doing a lot of hands-on sessions and your physical presence will be needed in these classes.

How much do orthopedic surgeon make?

Orthopedic surgeons earned a median annual salary of $357,616 as of April 2018. And it’s expected that the salary and job outlook for bone doctors will increase by 2023.

Are orthopedic surgeons and specialists in demand?

Yes! They are. The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that demand for physicians, in general, will grow by 24 percent between 2010 and 2023. Orthopedic surgeons will be among those specialties in high demand.

How much does it cost to become a orthopedic surgeon?

Public schools offering this program charge an average tuition fee of $9,410 per year for students living in the state and $23,890 for students from outside the state. Private schools charge an average of $32,410 per academic year.

From this calculation, we can say the total costs for becoming an orthopedic specialist vary between $37,640 to $129,640.


Your decision to pursue a career in orthopedic surgery will pay off in a short while. Yea, I understand the training may be too demanding but that’s also how the rewards are. The feeling that comes with when your patients get better and when you see patients who have given up hope of walking again is simply overwhelming. So do apply to pursue this program.

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