How Can I Become A Sports Medicine Physician? Job Details, Salary, Career

Do you feel concerned when one injures while exercising or when athletes, or sports officials obtain injuries while carrying out their duties? Do you want to help them in their healing process after obtaining these sports injuries? Then, you are most likely going to succeed in a Sports Medicine career as a Physician.

As more and more people are getting involved in exercise and sports and also sustaining sports injuries, the demand for doctors with this specialization is also increasing. Furthermore, a good number of athletes do not want to stop playing when they are injured.

Therefore, the services of sports doctors and sports therapists are needed to guide these athletes on how they can still participate in sports while recovering from their injuries.

This post will guide you on how to become a Sports Medicine Physician. You will also get vital information on a Sports Medicine Physician career. This information will include the job details, salaries, qualities, and education of these sports doctors.

Who is a Sports Medicine Physician?

In a layman’s terms, we can say a Sports medicine physician is a doctor who specializes in treating people with sports injuries. They are often referred to as Sports Doctors.

Basically, Sports medicine physicians have significant specialized training in the treatment and prevention of illness and injury.

They are ideal for providing comprehensive medical care to athletes, sports teams or active individuals who are simply want to maintain a healthy lifestyle. They work with athletes and sports teams at all levels to help heal athletic injuries. 

Typically, sports doctors specialize in non-surgical sports medicine and serve as team physicians. However, some also specialize in the surgical procedure of sports medicine. Nevertheless, sports medicine physicians should not be mistaken for Orthopedic doctors. We will look into the differences between these two as we progress.

Qualified sports medicine doctors are to fulfill the following responsibilities:

  • Pre-participation physical examination.
  • Injury assessment and management.
  • Care of sports-related and general medical needs of athletes.
  • Education and counseling on illness and injury prevention.
  • Care for special populations. This includes but not limited to geriatric, disabled, women, youth, and so on.
  • Sports psychology issues
  • Substance use issues.
  • Coordinating care with other members of the sports medicine team.
  • Basically, a sports medicine team consists of athletic trainers, physical therapists, personal physicians, other medical and surgical specialties, and other ancillary personnel of specialty care and rehabilitation.
  • Communication with athletic trainers, coaches, school administration, as well as athletes and their families.

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What Is Sports Medicine?

Although most sports teams have hired team doctors for many years, it is only since the late 20th century that sports medicine has emerged as a distinct field of health care.

Sports medicine is a branch of medicine that deals with physical fitness, and the treatment and prevention of injuries related to sports and exercise.

In other words, it deals with the treatment and preventive care of athletes, both amateur and professional. The goal of sports medicine is to help people exercise safely and effectively to achieve their training goals.

Typically, sports medicine combines general medical education with the specific principles of sports science, exercise physiology, orthopedics, biomechanics, sports nutrition, and even sports psychology.

Generally, a sports medicine team consists of medical and non-medical specialists that include but are not limited to the following:

  • Sports physicians
  • Surgeons
  • Athletic trainers
  • Sports psychologists
  • Physical therapists
  • Personal trainers
  • Nutritionists
  • Coaches

Who are Sports Medicine Specialists?

Sports medicine specialists focus on the medical, therapeutic, and functional aspects of exercise and also, work directly with athletes to improve their overall sports performance.  

They treat a wide range of physical conditions, including acute traumas and chronic overuse injuries. Below are some examples of these conditions.

Acute traumas
  • Fractures
  • Sprains
  • Strains
  • Dislocations
  • Knee and shoulder injuries
Chronic overuse injuries
  • Tendonitis
  • Degenerative diseases
  • Overtraining syndrome
  • Rotator cuff
  • Stress fractures

What are Sports Injuries?

Sports injuries are injuries that occur during sports, athletic activities, or exercising. According to Wikipedia, about 30 million teenagers and children participate in some form of organized sport in the United States. Of these, approximately three million athletes age 14 years and under experience a sports injury annually.

Also, from a study conducted at Stanford University, 21% of the injuries observed in elite college athletes made the athlete miss at least one day of sport. Also, about 77 percent of these injuries involved the lower leg, ankle, or foot.

What are the Qualities of a Sports Medicine Physician?

The attributes or qualities of a sports medicine doctor are not entirely different from that of other or general physicians.

However, these qualities overlap if not the same. This is so because a sports medicine physician is a doctor who specializes in sports medicine, a branch of medicine.

Below are some of the qualities of a sports medicine physician:

  • Compassion
  • Communication skills
  • Detail-oriented
  • Leadership skills
  • Dexterity/agility
  • Patience
  • Organizational skills
  • Physical stamina
  • Problem-solving skills


If you want to be a sports medicine doctor, then you have to be compassionate. Basically, patients who are sick or injured are most likely going to be in extreme pain or distress. Therefore, sports medicine physicians and surgeons must treat these patients and their families with compassion and understanding.

Communication skills

Communication is one thing that goes on in our daily lives; it is the only way we can express the way we feel to another party.

Therefore, Sports medicine physicians need to be excellent communicators. They must communicate effectively with their patients and other healthcare support staff.


To be a sports medicine physician, you must be able able to pay attention to details.
Patients must receive appropriate treatment and medications. Therefore Sports doctors must accurately monitor and record various pieces of information related to patient care.

Leadership Skills

If you want to own your own place or be in a management position, then you have to have leadership skills. This is because physicians who work in their own practice must manage a staff of other professionals.


As a sports medicine physician, you need to be agile and careful while working. Generally, physicians may work with very precise and sometimes sharp tools, and mistakes can have serious consequences.


Cases of patients who need special attention will require that physicians work for long periods. In addition, people who fear medical treatment may also require more patience from the doctor.

Organizational skills

 Sports medicine physicians should have good recordkeeping and other organizational skills; these are critical in both medical and business settings.

Physical stamina 

Oftentimes, sports medicine physicians assist injured athletes as they walk, helping in lifting or carrying them. Therefore, physicians should be comfortable lifting or turning these injured or disabled patients or performing other physical tasks.

Problem-solving skills

Physicians should be able to evaluate patients’ symptoms and administer the appropriate treatments. Also, they need to do this quickly if a patient’s life is threatened

How to Become a Sports Medicine Physician

One of the first steps to become a sports medicine physician is by earning a bachelor’s degree as well as, a doctor of medicine degree. However, to say that one is a sports medicine doctor, he/she must fulfill the following:

  • Get a board certification in Emergency Medicine, Family Medicine, Internal Medicine, Pediatrics or Physical Medicine/Rehabilitation.
  • Obtain one to two years of additional fellowship training in Sports Medicine.
  • Pass a national Sports Medicine certification examination allowing them to hold a Certificate of Added Qualification in Sports Medicine.
  • Participates in continuing medical education activities and recertification via re-examination every 10 years. This rigorous process was instituted to differentiate certified Sports Medicine Physicians from other physicians without specialized training.
  • Is a leader of the Sports Medicine team, which also may include specialty physicians and surgeons, athletic trainers, physical therapists, coaches, other personnel, and the athlete.

What is the Job Outlook of Sports Medicine Physicians?

According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, the overall employment of sports medicine physicians is projected to grow 7 percent between 2018 and 2028, faster than the average for all occupations. This job growth is projected due to the increased demand for healthcare services by the growing and aging population.

What is the Salary of Sports Medicine Physicians?

Generally, physicians and surgeons receive the highest wages among all occupations. According to BLS, the wage is equal to or greater than $208,000 per year or $100.00 per hour.

However, according to Glassdoors, the national average salary for a Sports Medicine Physician in the United States is $224,031.

Sports Medicine Physician Education

The educational track of a Sports medicine Physician is much more intensive and can take a longer time. From start to finish, the program usually takes 12 to 13 years to become a Physician and also, a professional. Below is a breakdown of the program:

  • Undergraduate degree: 4 years
  • Medical school: 4 years
  • MD/DO residency: 3 years
  • Sports medicine fellowship: 1 to 2 years

Becoming a sports medicine physician requires obtaining a bachelor’s degree and a Doctor of Medicine (M.D.) degree. During their undergraduate years, students will need to take pre-med classes in biology, anatomy, and chemistry. Medical school is a 4-year program in which the last two years include clinical rotations.

Typically, sports medicine physicians have primary specialization in either orthopedic surgery or primary care with a subspecialty in sports medicine.

During the clinical rotations, students can take electives in one of these specialty areas. Following the completion of medical school, graduates enter into residency programs.

No residency programs exist that allow for specialization in sports medicine, but rotations can include sports medicine procedures.

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Degrees In Sports Medicine

There are several schools that offer sport medicine degrees. These degrees include associate, bachelor, master’s, and doctoral degree programs. Furthermore, some universities offer online courses and training in sports medicine.

Associate Degree in Sports Medicine

Basically, associate’s degree programs in sports medicine are offered through community or junior colleges and other 2-year technical or vocational schools.

Prospective students are to have their high school diploma or its equivalent. In addition, applicants must pass specific high school courses; with at least a C average in Mathematics and chemistry.

If admitted for the program, students are to develop good skills in science, mathematics and communications.

Generally, coursework in a sports medicine program includes the following:

  • Human anatomy and physiology
  • Health and wellness
  • Sports psychology
  • Sports Nutrition
  • Strength training and conditioning

Bachelor’s Degree in Sports Medicine

A bachelor’s degree in sports medicine educates the students on the effect of sports and exercise in people’s lives. However, we advise students who want to enroll in this program to consider their ultimate career goals.

This is because the focus of a sports medicine program varies slightly depending on the department it is offered. It may be in the department of medicine, kinesiology, physical therapy, or physical education.

Notwithstanding, to enroll in the program, an applicant must have a high school diploma and SAT or ACT scores. In addition, the program takes four years to complete if studying full-time and can also include clinical experiences.

Undergraduates in the sports medicine program acquire a strong understanding of exercise and fitness and their relationship to human physiology. Also, they acquire skills to prevent, evaluate and treat sports injuries.

Most programs in sports medicine, especially those that include athletic trainer instruction, include fieldwork, internships, and practica where students gain clinical experience.

Typically, the course work covers the following:

  • Sports medicine principles
  • Anatomy and physiology
  • Sports Ethics
  • Sports Psychology
  • Biomechanics
  • Exercise physiology
  • Injury evaluation and rehabilitation
  • Therapeutic modalities
  • Statistics

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Master’s Degree in Sports Medicine

Generally, students at this level commonly pursue a Master of Science (MS) in Sports Medicine and some go-ahead to specialize in the field in areas like athletic training or strength and conditioning.

The master’s degree programs typically provide students with extensive hands-on training through research, clinical, and laboratory courses.

Some of these programs come in hybrid formats, that is, with online components. In addition, students in an MS in Sports Medicine program normally complete a thesis and take courses such as:

  • Research methods
  • Performance evaluation
  • Injury prevention
  • Human movement

Doctoral Degree in Sports Medicine

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) degree programs in sports medicine are rare. However, they can be offered as Ph.D. degree programs in kinesiology with a focus or concentration in sports medicine. Basically, some of these degree programs may take at least 4 years and typically require a dissertation.

Furthermore, the coursework is often designed to a student’s area of interest and research but may include subjects such as:

  • Biomechanics
  • Statistics
  • Evidence-based practice
  • Research

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Accreditation and Licensing of a Sports Medicine Physician

The American Board of Medical Subspecialties and by Medicare recognizes Sports Medicine as a subspecialty. Every state and territory in the U.S. demand that physicians be licensed.

However, to qualify for a license, candidates must graduate from an accredited medical school and also, complete the residency training in their specialty. In addition, all physicians and surgeons must pass a standardized national licensure exam. 

You will need to take the United States Medical Licensing Exam (USMLE) and also, follow the licensing practices established by the state in which you would like to work.

Work Environment of the Sports Medicine Physician

Most sports medicine physicians have their own private practice where they see patients and work with nurses, office assistants, and other personnel.

Furthermore, some physicians choose to partner with other doctors to create a joint practice, while others work under other doctors. Also, some work in hospitals.

However, others are employed by universities as either medical professionals, professors, or researchers. Some find employment with professional sports teams. If you want to be a primary care sports medicine physician, you may work exclusively with a particular athletic team, a university sports program, or a fitness club.

Sports Medicine Physicians vs Orthopedic Surgeons?

They are both well trained in musculoskeletal medicine. However, the major difference between the two lies in the fact that Sports Medicine Physicians specialize in the non-operative treatment of musculoskeletal conditions. On the other hand, Orthopedic surgeons are trained in the operative treatment of these conditions.

Nevertheless, about 90% of all sports injuries are non-surgical. Therefore, the Sports Medicine Physician can maximize non-operative treatment, guide appropriate referrals to physical and occupational therapies, and if necessary, expedite referral to an orthopedic/sports surgeon.

Common examples of musculoskeletal problems include the following:

  • Acute injuries (such as ankle sprains, muscle strains, knee & shoulder injuries, and fractures)
  • Overuse injuries (such as rotator cuff and other forms of tendonitis, stress fractures)Medical and injection therapies for osteoarthritis.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Let’s say that all sports medicine physicians are sports medicine specialists but not all sports medicine specialists are sports medicine physicians.

In simple terms, sports medicine specialist is used to refer to medical practitioners in any number of disciplines for which sports medical practices are used.

Sports medicine physicians are also ideal for the non-athlete as well, and are excellent resources for the individual who wishes to become active or begin an exercise program.

The same expertise used for the competitive athlete can be applied for the “weekend warrior” or “industrial athlete” who experiences an injury to return the individual as quickly as possible to full function.

Furthermore, Physicians in the American Medical Society for Sports Medicine are dedicated to providing comprehensive and quality care to the active individual.

From start to finish, the program usually takes 12 to 13 years to become a professional in the Sports Physician field.

Undergraduate degree: 4 years
Medical school: 4 years
MD/DO residency: 3 years
Sports medicine fellowship: 1 to 2 years

Many Sports Medician Physicians own their offices. Others also work for sports teams, in hospitals, in academia, or for the government.

However, primary care sports medicine physician work exclusively with a particular athletic team, a university sports program or a fitness club.


Sports Medician Physicians specialize in treating people with sports injuries. It takes at least 12 years to become a professional in the field following the educational track. In addition, the employability rate of sports doctors is impressive when compared to other professions.

I hope the information above guides in your decision-making process.

Good Luck and Success!!!


  • Wikipedia – Sports medicine
  • – What is a sports medicine physician?
  • VerywellFit – An Overview of Sports Medicine
  • – Sports Medicine Physician: Education and Training Requirements
  • – Best Sports Medicine Schools in the United States
  • – Sports Medicine Careers: Salary and Job Facts


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