How to become a sports doctor
“Success is no accident. It is hard work, perseverance, learning, studying, sacrifice, and most of all, love of what you are doing or learning to do.” – Pele (professional footballer)
This quote not only applies to athletes and entrepreneurs but also to you as an aspiring sports doctor. Do you want to be the next Hans-Wilhelm Muller-Wohlfahrt, one of the leading sports doctors in the world, and work with world-class athletes like Usain Bolt and FC Bayern Munich? Or perhaps you want to guide a budding Michael Jordan climbing towards his NBA career. Irrespective of your goals, the path to becoming a sports doctor requires blood, sweat and tears – but then, you knew that when you decided to pursue a career in medicine. To simplify things, this article will explain the steps required to achieve your dream.
What does a sport doctor do?
Before embarking on this journey, you need to understand the roles of your desired career. Sport doctors focus on preventing, diagnosing and managing injuries related to physical exercise. Specifically, they examine patients, order diagnostic tests, and identify athletic-related injuries. Moreover, they prescribe medication, treatment or perform surgery, as required, and counsel patients about their athletic health and activities. Their advice covers aspects of nutrition, sports psychology, substance abuse and increasing fitness.
Four Steps to become sports doctor
Step 1: Graduate secondary school
Building knowledge to become a sports doctor is similar to building a durable and safe house - you need to choose the correct materials and ensure you have a solid foundation. For a budding sports physician, those materials include secondary school and/or pre-medical degree subjects. To start your career, you need to graduate a secondary school. There are two potential pathways you can take from here: the undergraduate or the pre-medical degree route followed by a postgraduate medical degree.
- Undergraduate medical degree
The majority of medical universities worldwide offer undergraduate degree programs for students who completed secondary school. These are usually either five or six years. Some of them require specific subjects as entry requirements, usually a combination of the basic sciences like biology, chemistry and physics. Choosing to study those in secondary school not only gives you the opportunity to enter medical school but it provides a stepping stone for future courses taught during medical degrees.
- Pre-medical degree
Other medical universities, especially those in the United States of America, but not exclusively, require a pre-medical degree. Such a degree can be in any major desired, as long as it is accredited and the required subjects for medical school are studied. After all, having a business or engineering acumen as a doctor is never a disadvantage. Pre-medical education lasts approximately three to four years. The specific subjects often asked for by admission teams are general and organic chemistry, biochemistry, physics, calculus or statistics, humanities, social science and behavioural science subjects. Alternatively, there are pre-medical degree programs specializing in sports medicine, kinesiology or exercise science, which offer candidates a solid background for their career that lies ahead. Such programs typically include the subjects required by medical programs. Both pathways require hard work, dedication and excellent grades. In the end, a house can only stand the test of time if its materials are durable and solid.
Step 2: Graduate medical school
After acquiring the materials, you need to build good foundations, for strength and stability. For an evolving sports doctor, the base consists of graduating medical school, which takes between four and six years. You will need to first obtain either a medical (M.D.) or an osteopathic medicine (D.O.) degree. Although both are equally accepted, osteopathic programs emphasize the musculoskeletal system and preventative medicine. In both programs, the focus is on the general science subjects of biochemistry, anatomy, physiology, microbiology and pathology, while performing clinical rotations through various specialities during the final years.
Since a high number of sports doctors are orthopedic surgeons, a high competency of anatomy is important. Even if surgery is not your cup of tea, you will deal with musculoskeletal injuries very frequently working with athletes and understanding biomechanics and being able to differentiate your rectus femoris from your vastus medialis is essential.
Step 3: Complete residency
With the house having a strong foundation, it is now the perfect time to start building it. Upon graduation, you must obtain a licence from the respective country where you wish to practice and then begin the residency training. At this point, the road of aspiring sports doctors splits once again into primary physicians and surgeons. Those who desire to practice primary care sports medicine can chose residencies like family medicine, internal medicine, pediatrics or emergency medicine. Alternatively, orthopedic surgery can be the path of choice. The duration of those can vary from three to five years, in case of surgical specialities.
Step 4: Complete a fellowship
With the entire structure of your house built, now you need to add the finishing touches. This is the time when you turn the house into your vision, according to your heart’s content. The final step to become a sports doctor involves the completion of a fellowship. Candidates who specialized in primary care must complete a primary care physician fellowship, while those specialized in orthopedic surgery need to complete a surgical sports medicine fellowship. Such a program lasts between one and two years and involves specializing in the assessment and rehabilitation of sports-related injuries, such as those of the head or spinal cord. Doctors also learn the prescription of protective equipment.