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What is an Orthopedic Surgeon?

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Orthopedics is the branch of medicine that deals with disorders that affect the musculoskeletal system such as joint and muscle injuries, bone replacement and osteoporosis. An orthopedic surgeon is qualified to operate on people suffering with these kinds of problems. They use surgical or non-surgical procedures to treat a wide range of musculoskeletal disease and trauma including broken bones, degenerative diseases, tumors, congenital condition and sports injuries.

A general practitioner will often refer their patients to an orthopedic surgeon if they need function restoring due to bone tumors, broken bones, sports injuries or if they require reconstructive bone surgery, joint replacement, spine surgery or hand surgery. The most common procedures performed by an orthopedic surgeon are:

  • Knee arthroscopy – minimally invasive internal examination of knee damage.
  • Carpal tunnel release – operation to relieve pressure on the median nerve which is located in the carpal tunnel.
  • Shoulder decompression.
  • Hip replacement.
  • Repair of rotator cuff tendon.
  • Laminectomy – removal of bony arches in the spine.
  • Repair of radius fracture.
  • Repair of femoral neck fracture.
  • Lumbar spinal fusion.
  • Knee replacement.

Training for an Orthopedic Surgeon

In the United States, orthopedic surgeons will have completed four years of undergraduate college studying subjects such as chemistry, biology and math. They will follow this with four years of medical school. After graduation form medical school, graduates will undergo five year residency which consists of one year training in general surgery and four years in the field of orthopedic surgery. Residency training in the United States is highly competitive and most successful students graduate at the top of their medical school. Around 650 medical doctors complete orthopedic residency training each year, only seven percent of which are women.

Specialties for an Orthopedic Surgeon

Sometimes orthopedic surgeons choose to do more subspecialty training after their residency training. These fellowships typically last for one year or occasionally two and their may be some research involved. Examples of such subspecialties are:

  • Elbow and shoulder surgery.
  • Hand surgery.
  • Arthroplasy (joint reconstruction).
  • Foot and ankle surgery.
  • Spine surgery.
  • Pediatric orthopedics.
  • Orthopedic trauma.

Typical Roles for an Orthopedic Surgeon

  • Accepting referrals form and consulting with other physicians and assessing and reviewing treatment options.
  • Management of patients records, history, charts and test results.
  • Meeting with and examining patients.
  • Performing or requesting any necessary testing.
  • Examining results of X-rays, tests and MRIs.
  • Booking surgery rooms and notifying the surgical team.
  • Planning and facilitating patient care after surgery.

A typical working week for orthopedic surgeons last for 50-55 hours. This time is mostly spent with patient assessments and surgery, possible some teaching and/or research as well as paperwork. The average salary for an orthopedic surgeon is around $380,000.

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