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Orthopedic doctors are medical experts who focus on repairing injuries to the musculoskeletal system, including the spine and major joints. There are multiple branches of orthopedics and as a result doctors can do a wide variety of things. Some are trained as surgeons and spend most of their time resetting bones and rebuilding muscular tissues internally; others are trained in rehabilitation or work only with specified age groups, like children or the elderly. In large metropolitan areas there may also be orthopedists who focus only on certain parts of the body — knees, for instance, or arms and wrists. The day-to-day lives of these doctors can be very different, but the core of the job is often somewhat similar across the board. All are focused on the interplay between muscles and bones, and all work to heal problems and restore patient wholeness.
Common Procedures and Tasks
The most common reason that people go see an orthopedic doctor for is treatment of a broken bone, though arthritis treatment and management of carpal tunnel and rotator cuff injuries are also considered somewhat “standard.” Theses sorts of doctors routinely perform arthroscopies, which are minimally invasive procedures to explores hip, shoulder, or knee damage. Minor joint problems can often be corrected during an arthroscopy, but more serious conditions may require further surgery.
Paperwork is also usually a big part of the job. Doctors must usually keep fairly comprehensive records of their interactions with patients, and must document any treatments or recommendations. In hospitals and larger clinics there are often special medical documents experts to handle things like insurance claims and filing, but not always, and the primary recording is usually the responsibility of the doctor in any event.
Areas of Expertise
The biggest factor that will determine what exactly this type of doctor does on a day to day basis is the specialty that he or she has chosen. In most places orthopedics is a broad field that doctors often choose to narrow by limiting their practice to certain types or injuries or conditions. Some will spend most of their time setting broken bones, but others are experts in joint problems like arthritis and degenerative conditions like osteoporosis; it’s also usually possible to find experts who treat only sports injuries, infections, congenital conditions, and tumors in the bones. Orthopedic surgeons are their own subset, performing operations to repair the worst injuries.
No matter his or her area of primary interest, a doctor will typically spend about as much time with patients as in research. Like most branches of medicine, orthopedics changes fairly regularly as the body of knowledge shifts to adapt to changing technology and new findings. Being an expert usually means staying on top of everything, which practically speaking often means a lot of time spent reading medical journals, studying patient outcomes, and sometimes also publishing unique findings or thoughts so others in the profession can benefit.
Many orthopedists work in hospitals and see patients right away after accidents. These professionals rarely have a chance to select their patients. They pretty much get whoever comes through the door. This type of work is often some of the most general since the variety of injuries encountered can be so vast. A doctor may treat a teenager with a broken leg in the morning and a woman with arthritis in the afternoon; dislocated shoulders, sprained ankles, carpal tunnel syndrome, and metastatic bone growths may make up the next day’s agenda.
Not all work is so varied, though. Professionals who work in private practice often have a lot more say over the types of patients and injuries they treat. Specialized clinics may treat only sports-related injuries, for instance, or may be limited to hip or knee replacements.
Surgeons are usually the most specialized of all. Some general orthopedic surgeons on staff with hospitals will perform a variety of different operations, but it’s also common to find professionals who only do certain types of procedures. These more “extreme” specialists tend to work in big cities where there is enough demand to keep their patient rosters full most of the time. The smaller the community, in most cases, the more general the orthopedist’s work must be in order to stay busy.
Education and Training Requirements
Becoming an orthopedic doctor usually requires a substantial investment of time. Candidates must first complete a bachelor’s degree, which typically takes four years, then finish medical school training, which often takes another four. Some countries admit people right out of high school into doctor training programs rather than requiring an independent undergraduate degree first, but even then the time invested &madash; around eight years — is usually about the same.
Simply holding a medical degree isn’t usually enough, either. Doctors must usually refine their expertise through an orthopedics residency and internship program, which can take between five and eight additional years depending on the intricacy of the procedures mastered. Most places require orthopedists to keep their credentials and expertise sharp through continuing education, too, which often requires doctors to attend regular medical conferences and, in some cases, actually sit for periodic exams to test their skills.