How to Become a Sports Medicine Physician

July 9, 2024


Reviewed by:

Jonathan Preminger

Former Admissions Committee Member, Hofstra-Northwell School of Medicine

Reviewed: 4/25/24

If you're passionate about sports and medicine, read on to learn how to combine them into a career by becoming a sports medicine doctor.

Are you a sports lover that dreams of becoming a physician? If so, consider blending your passions into one career and become a sports medicine physician.

A sports medicine physician is an expert in preventing and treating sports injuries, or injuries related to movement and activity. Typically, sports medicine physicians treat their patients without surgery. However, some have the credentials needed to help repair injuries surgically. 

If this sounds like something you’re interested in, and you'd like to learn more about it, continue reading to learn how to become a sports medicine physician.

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What Does a Sports Medicine Physician Do?

A sports medicine physician specializes in both treating and preventing musculoskeletal injury while playing sports. Typically, they provide injury prevention care for professional and Olympic sports teams, although they can work in or operate their own specialty sports medicine clinics. 

The main goal of sports medicine is to prevent injury before it happens, treat it if it does, and work hard to get hurt athletes back on the road to recovery. As a sports medicine physician, you'll need to be able to work in a fast-paced, high-pressure environment. 

Since many sports medicine physicians work with professional athletes, they must have an excellent rapport and semblance of trust with their patients. After all, the income of professional athletes is dependent on their physical capabilities, and an injury can be financially, physically, and emotionally devastating.

Steps to Becoming a Sports Medicine Physician

Now that you know what a sports medicine physician is, the next question that may come to mind is: “How long does it take to become a sports medicine physician?”

For all intents and purposes, a sports medicine physician is equivalent to a general physician; they will have to receive the same qualifications as those who wish to work in a hospital or doctor's office. Here’s a list all the steps you'll need to follow to become a sports medicine physician.

Step One: Get a Bachelor's Degree

The first step to becoming a sports medicine physician is to complete an undergraduate degree at your chosen college. You can major in whatever you'd like, as long as you complete the medical school prerequisites:

  • Organic chemistry, with lab (2 semesters)
  • Inorganic chemistry, with lab (2 semesters)
  • Biology, with lab (2 semesters)
  • Physics, with lab (2 semesters)
  • English (2 semesters)
  • Mathematics (2 semesters)
  • Biochemistry (1 semester)

You'll want to complete these courses because they are a requirement for entry into medical school, which is step number two of how to become a sports medicine physician. Keep in mind that different medical schools may have different course requirements. 

To make things easier, many students choose to pre-med major that already includes the courses outlined above as prerequisites, so they won’t have to go out of their way to take the required courses. Whatever you choose, remember to pursue a program that you’re interested in and passionate about! 

While in your undergrad, you'll want to aim for as high of a GPA as possible, study hard for the MCAT, and participate in many extracurricular activities to boost your chances of getting into medical school

Step Two: Attend Medical School

Once you've finished your undergraduate degree, you'll want to receive an acceptance into medical school and complete the four years required. This will give you the education, knowledge, and skills needed to become a full-fledged doctor. 

You must pass certain licensing tests—one in medical school and one in your fellowship -to continue on with your MD journey.

Step Three: Complete a Medical Residency

You've learned all of the practical knowledge in medical school—now it's time to put your skills to the test with hands-on experience, which occurs in a residency program after medical school

Unfortunately, since sports medicine is a relatively new and exciting field, there are no specific sports medicine residencies. Most hopeful sports medicine doctors finish their residencies in family medicine, internal medicine, orthopedic surgery, or emergency medicine. 

The length of a residency will vary depending on the specialty, but they are usually around three to seven years, with the average residency lasting four years.

Step Four: Complete a Medical Fellowship

After you've gained valuable experience as a working physician throughout your residency, it's time to take your medical expertise one step further by completing a medical fellowship

This is where you will gain specific and specialized knowledge regarding sports medicine and learn everything you need to be a successful sports medicine doctor. A Fellowship in Sports Medicine can last anywhere between one and two years.

Step Five: Take Your Licensing Exam

Once you've completed your fellowship, there's only one more step you need to take, and it's the most important one. You must take and pass the licensing test to gain certification in Sports Medicine and be able to officially start practicing. 

Licensure and examinations are created in conjunction with the American Board of Internal Medicine (ABIM), the American Board of Family Medicine (ABFM), and the American Board of Pediatrics (ABP).  It will test your knowledge of sports medicine to ensure that you are an expert. 

Once you have followed all the steps outlined above, you can officially call yourself a sports medicine doctor!

Sports Medicine Doctor Salary & Job Outlook

There are no two ways about it; sports medicine doctors are paid very handsomely. The average sports medicine physician makes around $255,707 annually. Of course, this depends on the type of role that the physician takes on. For example, a sports medicine physician in the NFL can earn a higher salary than one working in a clinic.  

In the past couple of years, the demand for sports medicine doctors has been on the lower side, particularly because it is a very niche and unique field with few job openings. However, the industry is poised to get larger, with an expected 72,500 roles to be filled by 2029.

FAQs: Becoming a Sports Medicine Physician

Still curious about how to become a sports medicine physician? Take a look at the answers to these frequently asked questions below. 

1. How Long Does It Take to Become a Sports Medicine Physician?

Becoming a sports medicine physician will require time, dedication, effort, and schooling. Typically, becoming a full-fledged sports medicine Physician will take around 10–12 years, and it involves an undergraduate degree, a medical school degree, a medical residency, and a sports medicine fellowship. 

2. Do Sports Medicine Physicians Go to Medical School?

Pursuing sports medicine is similar to becoming a regular doctor, which means that you’ll have to attend and graduate from medical school.

3. How Do I Start a Career in Sports Medicine?

To start a career in sports medicine, you must first fulfill all the qualifications to become a working medical doctor. This means you will need to complete an undergraduate degree, a medical degree, and a residency. Your career specializing in sports medicine will begin once you complete your Fellowship in Sports Medicine. 

4. What is the Salary Range for a Sports Medicine Physician?

Sports medicine doctors are paid generously. The salary range for a sports medicine physician is between $218,258 to $325,249.

5. Where Can I Work as a Sports Medicine Physician?

As a sports medicine physician, you may find employment by finding a sports physician role on a professional sports team, joining an existing sports medicine practice, or opening up your own.

Final Thoughts

The path to becoming a sports medicine doctor is long and intense. It will take a lot of hard work, dedication, and focus. However, there is a payoff at the end (no pun intended). Remember to take your journey one step at a time, and let your passion for sports and drive for medicine and science bring you to where you need to be. You've got this!

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