How to become Sports Medicine Physician

Updated on January 15, 2024


Becoming a sports medicine physician allows you to combine an interest in sports and medicine into one fulfilling career. As a sports medicine doctor, you get to work with athletes and active people to help prevent, diagnose, and treat injuries related to sports and exercise. If you want to impact people’s ability to live active, healthy lifestyles, a career in sports medicine may be right for you.

The journey requires commitment and perseverance but can lead to a rewarding career helping people pursue their athletic dreams. This article will provide an overview of the step-by-step process to start your training in sports medicine. First, you must complete an undergraduate degree before applying to medical school. You can prepare for a residency in orthopedics or primary care sports medicine during medical school. After residency, you may choose to become board-certified in sports medicine. With dedication and focus, you can achieve the education and training required to become a sports medicine doctor.

What is a Sports Medicine Physician?

A sports medicine physician is a medical doctor specializing in treating sports and physical activity injuries. Sports medicine physicians have comprehensive knowledge and skills for preventing, diagnosing, treating, and rehabilitating injuries that occur during exercise or athletic events.

Sports medicine is an interdisciplinary subspecialty that incorporates aspects of orthopedics, physiology, biomechanics, nutrition, psychology, and sports science. Sports medicine physicians may work with athletes of all ages and abilities, from youth sports participants to Olympians and professional athletes.

Some key responsibilities of a sports medicine physician include:

To become a sports medicine physician, one must complete medical school and obtain an M.D. or D.O degree, followed by residency training in family medicine, pediatrics, or internal medicine. Further specialty training includes a sports medicine fellowship and possibly subspecialty training in areas like sports cardiology or orthopedic surgery. Many sports medicine physicians hold additional certifications in medical areas relevant to athletic health and injury.

What do Sports Medicine Physicians do?

Sports medicine physicians specialize in treating injuries related to sports and physical activity. Their main responsibilities include:

Educational Requirements for Becoming a

To become a sports medicine physician, you must complete several years of training beyond a bachelor’s degree. The educational path typically involves the following steps:

Earn a Bachelor’s Degree

The first step is earning a bachelor’s degree at an accredited four-year university. Common majors for aspiring sports medicine physicians include biology, chemistry, biochemistry, exercise science, or health sciences. However, you can major in any field if you complete the prerequisite coursework required by medical schools, such as biology, chemistry, physics, and mathematics.

Attend Medical School

The next requirement is completing a medical degree (M.D. or D.O.) at an accredited medical school in the United States. This involves an additional four years of education. During the first two years, students take classroom courses in areas like anatomy, biochemistry, pharmacology, psychology, medical ethics, and physiology. The final two years involve hands-on clinical rotations where students work under the supervision of experienced doctors across specialties. Learn more about attending medical school.

Complete a Residency Program

After earning a medical degree, prospective sports medicine physicians must complete an orthopedic surgery residency program. These programs last approximately five years. Residents get supervised and receive hands-on training in treating injuries related to sports and physical activity. They learn surgical procedures as well as non-surgical treatments.

Pursue a Fellowship (Optional)

Doctors who want to sub-specialize even further in sports medicine can complete a sports medicine fellowship after finishing their orthopedic surgery residency. These 1–2-year programs provide advanced non-surgical sports medicine treatment training.

Earn Board Certification

Finally, sports medicine physicians must become board certified in orthopedic surgery by the American Board of Orthopaedic Surgery (ABOS). This involves passing a written exam after completing medical school and then an oral exam after finishing residency. Board certification demonstrates a doctor’s exceptional expertise in the field.

The educational journey to becoming a sports medicine physician is long and challenging but very rewarding for those dedicated to treating sports-related injuries, keeping athletes healthy, and performing their best. It takes 8-9 years of schooling after a bachelor’s degree, but it opens up opportunities to work with professional sports teams, schools, fitness centers, and more.

Postgraduate Training for Sports Medicine Physician

Becoming a sports medicine physician requires significant postgraduate training beyond the four years of medical school. Here are the key steps:

In summary, the journey involves a minimum three years of postgraduate training – a primary care residency plus sports medicine fellowship. Dual residency programs before the fellowship allow subspecialization but are not required. Board certification confirms expertise in assessing and treating athletic injuries using nonsurgical interventions and rehabilitation.

Skills and Qualities of a Successful Sports Medicine Physician

Becoming a sports medicine physician requires developing a specific set of skills and personal qualities that will allow you to thrive in this field.

Communication Skills

Effective communication is vital for sports medicine physicians. You need to clearly explain injuries, treatment plans, and recovery instructions to patients and their coaches/trainers. Strong listening skills are also essential to fully understand patient concerns and build trust. Developing a patient, compassionate bedside manner helps put patients at ease as you deliver news about their conditions.

Analytical Skills

Sports physicians must have sharp analytical abilities to quickly and accurately diagnose injuries based on symptoms and test results. You need to be able to think critically when evaluating patient health data to provide proper acute care and recommend appropriate long-term treatment options. Keeping detailed records and carefully tracking patient progress over time is also key.

Manual Dexterity

Hands-on medical procedures like joint injections, wound suturing, casting, and taping require fine motor skills and dexterity. Sports medicine physicians need steady hands and precision control of movements to competently execute the many physical examination and treatment techniques used in this field.

Leadership Ability

As a sports medicine professional, you will often guide the rehabilitation process and lead a whole treatment team. Strong leadership skills are essential to coordinate care across athletic trainers, physical therapists, other physicians, and coaches. You need to be able to take charge and make sure the patient is progressing appropriately.


While sports physicians lead the care team, they must also be part of a cohesive group focused on the patient’s well-being. You must be able to collaborate with fellow sports medicine practitioners like athletic trainers as well as team coaches and physical therapists to align on recovery benchmarks and return-to-play timelines.


The sports medicine field requires dealing with emergent, rapidly changing situations like on-field injuries. Sports physicians must adapt their approach as new patient information presents itself smoothly. Being flexible and able to revise diagnosis and treatment on the fly is key.


A successful sports medicine physician should deeply care about the health and performance of athletes. A genuine passion for working with athletes of all ages and skill levels will make you strive to offer first-rate care driven by patient needs rather than just medical testing and procedures. Your compassion should propel you to get to know each patient individually.

Sports Medicine Physician Salary

Years of Experience Average Salary
0-5 years $200,000
5-10 years $225,000
10-20 years $275,000
20+ years $300,000

Career Opportunities and Advancement

Sports medicine is a growing and dynamic field with excellent physician career opportunities. As participation in youth sports, school athletics, and recreational activities increases, so does the need for sports medicine physicians.

Sports medicine physicians can work in various settings, including hospitals, orthopedic clinics, college and professional training rooms, youth sports leagues, and more. Some sports medicine doctors choose to open their private practice to treat sports injuries and related issues. Others take positions with professional sports teams, providing care to athletes.

There is also an opportunity to specialize further within sports medicine itself. Physicians can complete additional fellowship training in areas like arthroscopy, shoulder reconstruction, cartilage restoration, concussions, and other sports injury treatment techniques. This allows sports medicine doctors to offer advanced care in their specialties. For example, see information on [arthroscopy fellowships from the Arthroscopy Association of North America.

Regarding career advancement, sports physicians may take on leadership roles such as heading a hospital’s sports medicine department, directing a sports medicine fellowship program, serving as team physician for a major athletic organization, or taking an executive position within a state/national sports medicine association. Leadership in research and education is also possible by publishing in medical journals, speaking at conferences, and teaching medical students interested in sports medicine.

With sports participation and athletic competition continuing to grow worldwide, those who choose a career in sports medicine should have abundant opportunities to put their skills to use and advance their careers for years to come. The future looks bright for those passionate about keeping athletes healthy and active.


In conclusion, becoming a sports medicine physician requires dedication through several years of education and training. It’s a long journey, but helping athletes prevent and recover from injuries can be an incredibly rewarding career. With passion, perseverance through challenges, and an eagerness to continually expand your medical knowledge, you will be well on your path to becoming a successful sports medicine doctor. Many resources are available if you decide this career is right for you (learn more from the American Medical Society for Sports Medicine). Ultimately, if you have the drive and determination, you have what it takes to positively impact many lives as a sports medicine physician.

Additional Resources

Resource Link Description
American Medical Society for Sports Medicine
  • Professional association for sports medicine physicians.
  • Info on sports medicine fellowships.<br>• Annual meeting and CME opportunities.
American Osteopathic Academy of Sports Medicine
  • Professional organization for osteopathic sports medicine physicians
  • Fellowship opportunities
  • Annual clinical and research conference.
American Board of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation
  • Administers subspecialty certification exams in sports medicine
  • Outlines exam eligibility requirements
  • Practice questions and test preparation tips.
Association of American Medical Colleges
  • Overview of sports medicine career path for prospective students
  • Data on Sports Medicine residencies and Fellowships
  • Admissions requirements.


How much does a sports medicine physician make?
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average salary for a sports medicine physician in the United States is around $219,922 annually. Those working in colleges, universities, and professional schools earn the highest wages. Salaries can vary widely depending on your years of experience, location, and employer. Learn more about sports medicine physician salaries.

What kind of degree and education is required?
Becoming a sports medicine physician requires extensive education and training. You must first complete a bachelor’s degree and then finish four years of medical school to earn your MD or DO. After this, you must complete a residency program in family medicine, internal medicine, pediatrics, or emergency medicine. Then, you can pursue a fellowship in sports medicine for an additional year of specialized training. Check out the educational path to become a sports physician.

How much experience is needed?
Qualifying as a sports medicine physician takes 11+ years of education and on-the-job training. During your residency and sports medicine fellowship, you will gain experience working alongside experienced doctors to evaluate, diagnose, treat, and help rehabilitate patients with sports-related injuries under supervision. Many physicians become board-certified in sports medicine after their fellowship as well. Gaining experience is key before you can practice independently.

What does a sports medicine physician do?
Sports medicine physicians evaluate and treat bone, muscle, joint, ligament, and tendon injuries caused by sports and physical activity. They provide nonsurgical medical care, work with athletes to prevent injuries, offer rehabilitation recommendations after surgery, provide emergency care for acute sports injuries, and advise patients on nutrition, exercise, injury prevention, and return to play safely. Learn more about the role of a sports physician.