How to Become an Orthopedic Surgeon in 7 Steps

Becoming an Orthopedic Surgeon

Orthopedic surgeons treat problems affecting the musculoskeletal system. They are trained as medical doctors (MDs) or doctors of osteopathy (DOs) with specialized training in surgery and musculoskeletal conditions.

They are responsible for diagnosing, treating and preventing muscle and bone problems.

Orthopedic surgeons need intense training and certification to practice their skills in patient-care settings.

What is an Orthopedic Surgeon

Orthopedic surgeons study injuries and diseases that affect the musculoskeletal system. This includes learning about bones, muscles, tendons, ligaments and nerves.

These professionals know how to treat various muscular and skeletal problems. For instance, orthopedic surgeons know how to treat birth defects, such as scoliosis.

Orthopedic surgeons treat injuries to bones, such as fractures, and conditions affecting the hips, joints, and other parts of the musculoskeletal system. Orthopedic surgeons treat a wide range of conditions, including but not limited to degenerative disorders like arthritis and osteoporosis.

Orthopedic surgeons use therapies and treatments to help patients. They are trained to discover the root cause of problems.

They can restore movement in limbs and provide a better quality of life.

On an average day, orthopedic surgeons may be required to correct bone deformities using surgical treatment.

Orthopedic surgeons prescribe medications, perform surgical and non-surgical treatments, and may recommend physical therapy for rehabilitation.

What Does an Orthopedic Surgeon Do

An orthopedic surgeon provides surgical and non-surgical treatment to patients. They work to alleviate pain or restrict degeneration.

Orthopedic surgeons focus on the musculoskeletal system, a complex network of bones, muscles, ligaments, and nerves.

The musculoskeletal system is essential for normal movement and motion.

The responsibilities of an orthopedic surgeon may include:

  • Patient consulting
  • Patient Education
  • Advising and interpreting diagnostic tests, such as X-ray or MRI tests
  • Performing surgical operations to diagnose or treat skeletal problems
  • Prescribing medication or advising post-surgical rehabilitation
  • Accounting for viral or bacterial infection
  • Addressing genetic disorders
  • Completing and keeping accurate patient records
  • Being on call to respond to medical emergencies, such as trauma or accident

What are the requirements to become an Orthopedic Surgeon

The pathway to becoming an orthopedic surgeon typically involves 4 years of undergraduate education, 4 years of medical school, 5 years of residency, and optionally 1-2 years of fellowship for sub-specialization, totaling approximately 13-14 years. The study of the musculoskeletal system is vast.

Potential orthopedic surgeons need to maintain high test scores and good GPA rankings and get glowing letters of recommendation.

The usual path to becoming a board-certified orthopedic surgeon involves:

  1. Earning a bachelor’s degree
  2. Passing the MCAT (Medical College Admission Test)
  3. Completing medical school to earn either M.D. or D.O. degree
  4. Completing residency
  5. Enrolling in fellowship
  6. Earning national and/or state license
  7. Getting certification from the relevant medical board

These are the seven steps to becoming a certified, practicing orthopedic surgeon in the US. Let’s take a closer look at these points.

1 – Earning a bachelor’s degree

The first step is to earn a bachelor’s degree, with many students choosing a science major to meet medical school prerequisites, but a science major is not strictly required. Ideally, you will learn general chemistry, biology, organic chemistry, physics, English, and mathematics during this time. You can also take pre-med classes. You can also apply for internships in science-centric electives.

Normally, it takes around 4 years to earn a bachelor’s degree.

2 – Passing the MCAT

After acquiring a bachelor’s degree, you must sit for a 7-hour test to prove you are eligible for medical school. The Medical College Admission Test (MCAT) involves multiple sections.

The MCAT scores are between 472 and 528; medical schools consider a range of scores for admission. If you want to become an orthopedic surgeon, score as high as possible.

To prepare for the MCAT, you should brush up on the following subjects or topics:

  • CARS
  • Physical Sciences
  • Psychological, Social and Biological Foundations of Behavior

3 – Completing medical school

After successfully passing the MCAT, you will have to apply for enrollment in a medical school. During the four years of medical school, you will get to study the following subjects:

  • Physiology
  • Anatomy
  • Biochemistry
  • Genetics

During the clinical rotations, you will get a hands-on learning experience on the following topics:

  • Medicine
  • Surgery
  • Psychiatry
  • Obstetrics and Gynecology
  • Radiology
  • Neurology

4 – Completing residency

After acquiring your medical degree, you will need to spend the next five years at a medical residency for orthopedics.

During the first year of orthopedic residency, residents receive broad training in surgery, including general surgery. You will be taught advanced orthopedic procedures in the final years of residency.

During residency, you will work under the direct supervision of expert and skilled physicians. This helps you gain the confidence and skills required to become a professional orthopedic surgeon.

5 – Enrolling in fellowship

Following your residency, you will need to enroll in a fellowship. This period is meant for in-depth study of a particular body part. This is also the opportunity to choose your sub-specialty under orthopedics.

A fellowship usually takes 1 to 2 years to complete. During this, potential orthopedic surgeons learn about:

  • Pediatric orthopedics
  • Orthopedic oncology
  • Surgical sports medicine
  • Reconstructive surgery
  • Hand, ankle, foot and spine surgery

6 – Earning a license to practice

Once you’ve completed your fellowship training, you must pass the USMLE (United States Medical Licensing Examination) to practice orthopedic medicine within the US.

Keep in mind that licensing requirements vary from state to state. So, learn all the requirements your state of residence prescribes before applying for the license.

7 – Getting board certification

Once you get your license to practice, you can practice orthopedic medicine within the specified state. However, you can also choose to get board-certified to gain more trust from patients.

Board-certified orthopedic surgeons are considered competent and knowledgeable by a jury of their peers.

Once you get board certification, you can apply to work in a hospital or establish a private orthopedic practice.


Orthopedic surgeons are incredibly valuable to society. They are essential in diagnosing, treating, and preventing disorders and injuries affecting bones and muscles.

A successful orthopedic surgeon’s salary annual income can be as high as US$ 767,876.

Make sure to choose only a reputed and reliable medical school.

It would be best if you also took care to enroll in residency and fellowship at hospitals and clinics where you can get maximum exposure to active patient care.

See Also

What is a Resident Doctor

Average Pay for Doctors

Best Physician Organizations

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Current Version
April 1, 2024
Updated By
Andrea Morales G.
November 20, 2021
Written By
Shubham Grover

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