What does it take to become an orthopaedic surgeon?

Uncategorized Apr 13, 2018

I was recently asked by a friend, who had a teenage child who is interested in becoming an orthopaedic surgeon, “what does it take to become an orthopaedic surgeon?”


In total, from the time one graduates from high school, it takes a minimum of 13 years of schooling/training to become an orthopaedic surgeon. That’s 4 years of college, 4 years of medical school, 5 years of residency training as a “junior” doctor and then if a subspecialty is desired, another 1-2 years of training. Orthopaedic surgeons can subspecialize in sports medicine (like I did), orthopaedic oncology, spine, adult reconstruction (that’s joint replacements), pediatric orthopaedics, foot/ankle reconstruction, shoulder/elbow, hand - to name a few.

Not all college graduates decide to go straight through to medical school, with some individuals taking time off to travel, obtain a graduate degree, work or perform research. Personally, I took a non-traditional path as I hadn’t decided to apply for medical school until a few years after my undergraduate degree. I pursued a brief, minimum-wage-paying but very fun career in the snowboarding industry, spent some time in acupuncture school, and then was an event/seminar coordinator. It was a circuitous route, but it certainly gave me some real-world experience prior to entering medical school, and I felt it prepared for being able to relate and speak to individuals of all backgrounds and ages. As I worked full-time planning workshops across the U.S., I spent about two years taking classes at night and on weekends to complete my prerequisites to be able to apply to medical school. And then - I took the MCAT, the standardized exam that is part of the medical school application. 

What many younger students thinking about medicine as a career don’t know is that the tests continue after school is completed. Through residency and beyond, there are exams that must be passed - such as the orthopaedic in-training exams during residency, then the written first part of the orthopaedic board examinations that are required at the end of residency. 

Even after starting your first “real job” as an orthopaedic surgeon, there’s a second part for board examinations - an oral exam that looks at actual patient cases during a defined period of time in the first 20 months of practice. When you see that a surgeon is “board-eligible”, it means they’re in good standing to sit for this second part of the exam. Once passed, that surgeon then becomes “board-certified”. To remain board-certified, continuing education is required, as is a recertification exam every 10 years. 

‚ÄčThe tests and studying never end! It’s a long road, but if you’re heart is in it, it is worth it. I’m in a rewarding field and I love what I do.

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