Orthopedic Surgeon Job Description
Orthopedic surgeons specialize in correcting conditions that affect the musculoskeletal system. This includes conditions of the joints, bones, muscles, nerves, and tendons. Orthopedic surgery is one of the most common surgeries, making up roughly 14 percent of the yearly amount spent on healthcare across the country. There are many different subfields within orthopedics, including oncology, sports medicine, reconstructive surgery, trauma, and pediatrics. Orthopedic surgeons may specialize in a specific area of the body, such as the spine, hip, foot, ankle, knee, or shoulder. In addition to working in an operating room, orthopedic surgeons meet with patients in a typical doctor’s office setting. Here they examine patients to determine if their injuries need further tests, or if the injuries can be treated with a non-surgical option.
Orthopedic surgeons have office hours that match the standard Monday through Friday format, but they usually have on-call days for a local hospital, which may include evening and overnight shifts. They usually work close to 60 hours a week. According to the National Bureau of Labor Statistics, demand for surgeons and physicians is set to rise 15 percent through 2026.
Orthopedic Surgeon Duties and Responsibilities
Orthopedic surgeons do much more than perform surgeries. Diagnosing patients and recommending non-surgical treatments also falls under their umbrella of responsibilities. We analyzed a plethora of orthopedic surgeon job descriptions to compile the following list of expected duties:
Interview Patients for Symptom Information
Orthopedic surgeons must be good listeners and have the ability to build rapport with patients. This encourages patients to be honest about their symptoms and helps facilitate an accurate diagnosis.
Analyze Patient Injuries
Once basic symptom information is gathered, orthopedic surgeons perform an examination of the injury to determine if further diagnostic testing is necessary. If an X-ray or MRI is deemed necessary, patients are sent to the corresponding technician.
Recommend Non-Surgical Treatment When Appropriate
Orthopedic surgeons don’t always recommend surgery. When it is applicable, they refer patients to physical therapy or perform minor procedures like casting and splinting.
Ease Patient Concerns Regarding Surgical Procedures
The idea of surgery can be stressful for patients, even if it is minimally invasive. Orthopedic surgeons need a strong working knowledge of the field to answer patient questions as well as a good bedside manner to alleviate patient concerns.
Perform Various Musculoskeletal Surgeries
Performing surgeries on various parts of the musculoskeletal system is one of the main duties of an orthopedic surgeon. The type of surgeries they perform depends on their specialties. Reattaching tendons and ligaments, plating broken bones, and performing hip and knees replacements are some of the most common procedures.
Orthopedic Surgeon Skills
Orthopedic surgeons rely extensively on their medical knowledge and ability to communicate effectively to perform their duties adequately. They simply cannot get a job without being an expert in the musculoskeletal system. They also must have intricate knowledge of all the common orthopedic procedures. When it comes to character traits, a steady hand and laser focus are two of the most important ones for orthopedic surgeons to possess. Additionally, successful orthopedic surgeons must demonstrate the following skills:
- Flexibility to treat patients as individuals, factoring in different recovery speeds and conditions
- Critical thinking skills to analyze and diagnose patient condition
- Complex problem-solving abilities to determine the best course of action for patients, which may include developing and implementing new techniques
- Keen eye-hand coordination and fine motor skills to perform various orthopedic procedures
- Advanced interpersonal communication skills to liaise with patients, techs, and other medical professionals
Orthopedic Surgeon Tools of the Trade
In addition to specialty tools, orthopedic surgeons are adept in using the following instruments when treating their patients or performing surgeries:
- Casts and Splints – Orthopedic surgeons are versed in non-surgical procedures, such as setting and removing casts and splints
- Bone Drills and Chisels – Orthopedic surgeons use bone drills to reach bone marrow, while bone chisels are more appropriate for removing slivers of bone tissue
- Surgical Tools – Orthopedic surgeons are proficient with general surgical tools—such as scalpels and retractors—in addition to orthopedic surgical tools—such as forceps, knives, and cutters—which are used to cut tissue and access bones
Orthopedic Surgeon Education and Training
Becoming an orthopedic surgeon takes years of schooling. First, one earns a bachelor’s degree in pre-med, biology, or anatomy. This is where one learns all about the human body as well as the pathology of many conditions. Next, students complete four years of medical school. Coursework covers biochemistry, pathology, anatomy, and physiology. After medical school comes five years of residency. This is where aspiring orthopedic surgeons shadow practicing surgeons to learn the ins and outs of common orthopedic procedures. They also assist in many procedures once they gain enough observational experience. The final step is getting licensed. Specific requirements vary by state, but all states require one to pass the U.S. Medical Licensing Examination.
Orthopedic Surgeon Salary
According to Payscale, the national median salary for orthopedic surgeons is $353,467. Those in the top 10 percent make above $561,088, while those in the bottom 10 percent make below $117,927.
Orthopedic Surgeon Resources
Interested in pursuing a career as an orthopedic surgeon? If so, check out the following list of resources for more information:
American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons – Founded in 1933 with 500 members, the AAOS now boasts a membership of 39,000 orthopedic surgeons around the globe. This organization offers a plethora of educational resources that are great for students and residents.
American Orthopaedic Association – Founded in 1887, the prestigious AOA’s mission is “engaging the orthopaedic community to develop leaders, strategies, and resources to guide the future of musculoskeletal care.” The AOA only accepts about 6 percent of orthopedic surgeon applicants but offers members access to leaders within specialized fields of orthopedic surgery. AOA’s e-Institute provides webinars, courses, and more.
The American Board of Orthopaedic Surgery -This organization governs the board certification exams for orthopedic surgeons. The ABOS “maintains the highest standards for education, practice, and conduct through examination, certification, and maintenance of certification for the benefit of the public.”
Pocket Orthopaedic Surgery by Jamal Boughanem and Dr. Ritesh R. Shah – This easy-to-use book contains vital information on pathophysiology, as well as how to treat common ailments and perform basic orthopedic procedures.
Case Files Orthopaedic Surgeries by Eugene C. Toy et al. – This book covers dozens of case studies that show many common and uncommon orthopedic procedures in action.
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