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How to Become an Orthopaedic Surgeon in 2023

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by Blen Tesfu in Residency

Do you want to know how to become an orthopaedic surgeon? Are you interested in a medical career that provides not only patient care but also offers unique opportunities for technical expertise and a chance to be on the cutting edge of modern medicine?

If so, an orthopaedic surgery career may be the perfect choice for you. In this blog post, I will explain what an orthopaedic surgeon does and how to become one, even if you’re only in high school.


  • Orthopaedic surgeons specialize in treating conditions affecting the musculoskeletal system.
  • Orthopaedic surgery residency training is five years, with the option of fellowship training afterward.
  • Going to a top medical school may help a bit. However, how you do on your USMLEs (Board) scores and in your med school class ranking will matter more
  • Non-PhD degrees like MBAs and MPHs appear to have a moderate  disadvantage to becoming an orthopaedic surgeon

Table of Contents

What Are Orthopaedic Surgeons?

Orthopaedic surgeons specialize in the diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of conditions and injuries affecting the musculoskeletal system, including both congenital concerns and acquired traumatic injuries. They treat various conditions, ranging from minor injuries such as sprains and strains to complex surgeries involving the spinal cord.

In addition to performing surgical procedures, orthopaedic surgeons may also provide non-surgical treatments such as physical therapy, medication, and other forms of rehabilitation. They work closely with other healthcare professionals, such as physical and occupational therapists, to develop comprehensive treatment plans for their patients.

Is an Orthopaedic Surgeon a Doctor?

Are orthopaedic surgeons doctors? The answer to this question is yes;  orthopaedic surgeons are doctors.

An orthopaedic surgeon is a specialized physician who has completed medical school, usually followed by a residency in orthopaedic surgery. During this time, orthopaedic surgeons train to care for and manage patients with musculoskeletal conditions.

Orthopaedic Surgeons vs Rheumatologists: What’s the Difference?

Both orthopaedic surgeons and rheumatologists specialize in conditions affecting the musculoskeletal system including bones, joints, and muscles. However, there is a key difference.

Orthopaedic surgeons specialize in the surgical management of conditions affecting the musculoskeletal system. On the other hand, rheumatologists specialize in the medical (non-surgical) treatment of conditions affecting the musculoskeletal system. 

How Long Does It Take To Become an Orthopaedic Surgeon?

Becoming an orthopaedic surgeon is no easy feat and requires considerable time and energy. But the results can be gratifying if you’re up to the challenge.

It takes a minimum of 13 years after high school to become an orthopaedic surgeon. That includes four years of undergraduate education, four years of medical school, and five years of orthopaedic surgery residency. Along the way, you’ll have to take various standardized exams, including the SAT, the MCAT, and the USMLE Step 1 and Step 2 CK.

Undergraduate (4 Years)

The first step to becoming an orthopaedic surgeon is entering and completing an undergraduate program. This means taking the SATs and doing well enough to be accepted into a college or university. Once accepted into an undergraduate program, you’ll have to complete a minimum of four years of academic coursework. This includes classes in biology, chemistry, physics, English, and other general education courses.

Medical School (4 Years)

The next step is to take the MCAT, a standardized exam that measures your knowledge and skills in biology, chemistry, physics, and psychology. You’ll need to score well on the MCAT for med school acceptance.

You’ll have to complete four years of academic and clinical training during medical school. This includes classes in anatomy, physiology, pharmacology, pathology, and other medical topics. You’ll also have to complete clinical rotations at hospitals and other healthcare facilities to gain hands-on experience.

Orthopaedic Surgery Residency (5 Years)

After you’ve completed medical school, you’ll have to match into an orthopaedic surgery residency. To do this, you’ll have to take the USMLE Step 1 and Step 2 CK exams. These exams measure your knowledge and skills in the areas of clinical medicine. Once you’ve passed these exams, you’ll be eligible to apply for residency.

Once you’ve matched into an orthopaedic surgery residency, you’ll have to complete five years of clinical training to become an orthopaedic surgeon. During this training period, you’ll learn how to diagnose and manage conditions affecting the musculoskeletal system.

Fellowship (Optional; Usually 1-2 Years)

After completing your orthopaedic surgery residency, you may pursue further training in a specialized area of orthopaedic surgery. Orthopaedic surgery fellowships allow physicians to gain subspecialty expertise. Fellowship choices include sports medicine, spine surgery, or joint replacement. Most orthopaedic surgery fellowships last for one or two years, allowing physicians to gain additional experience and hone their skills in a specific area of orthopaedic surgery.

After Orthopaedic Surgery Residency: Licensing + Board Certification

Upon completing your residency, you’ll be eligible to apply for a medical license, a must-have for practice. You’ll also be able to take the board exam administered by the American Board of Orthopaedic Surgery. While passing the orthopaedic surgery boards is voluntary, many employers will see this as important – or even necessary – for you to be employed as an orthopaedic surgeon.

Becoming an orthopaedic surgeon takes a minimum of 13 years after high school. It’s a long and arduous process, but if you’re dedicated and passionate about becoming an orthopaedic surgeon, the rewards are worth it.

How Competitive is it to Become an Orthopaedic Surgeon?

Orthopaedic surgery is one of the most competitive specialties in matching into a residency program. Each year, thousands of hopeful medical school graduates apply for a limited number of positions in their preferred specialty. The Match system, run by the National Resident Match Program (NRMP), pairs applicants with training programs based on their preferences.

But how competitive is orthopaedic surgery in the US? To answer this question, looking at the unmatched rates of US seniors by specialty is important. The unmatched rate refers to the percentage of US seniors who applied for a residency program in that specialty but did not get matched. It considers each applicant’s first-choice specialty. So, if you applied to a different specialty as a “backup” but didn’t match because you matched in your first choice, this wouldn’t be included. To learn more about how to maximize your chances at a dream residency through “The Match,” see this article.

In the 2022 Match, graduating US medical school seniors attending MD schools had a 34.2% unmatched rate to orthopaedic surgery. This makes it one of the most competitive specialties, next to plastic surgery (unmatched % 37.3%).

For more on the competitiveness of orthopaedic surgery relative to other medical specialties, see this article.

Orthopaedic Surgery Annual Compensation

Orthopaedic surgeons have an average annual salary of $557,000. However, this can vary dramatically based on practice setting, specialty training, and experience level.

Orthopaedic Surgeon Annual Salary

Orthopaedic Surgeons make $557,000 per year on average

How Much Do Orthopaedic Surgeons Make an Hour?

You may also be wondering, how much do orthopaedic surgeons make per hour? And how is the balance between time inside vs. outside the hospital for the specialty?

While there aren’t perfect data, we’ve compiled data re: hours/weeks worked and annual salary for various specialties, including orthopaedic surgery.

Here are the data:

Average Annual SalaryAverage Hourly SalaryOn-Call ScheduleHours/WeekAvg Weeks Worked/Year
Critical Care$369,000.00$114.9166.9
Diagnostic Radiology$437,000.00$170.46Low5844.2
Emergency Medicine$373,000.00$169.59Medium46.447.4
Family Medicine$255,000.00$101.85Medium52.647.6
General Surgery$402,000.00$141.88High59.447.7
Infectious Diseases$260,000.00$101.44High53.4
Internal Medicine$264,000.00$100.81Medium54.947.7
Interventional Radiology$437,000.00
Neurological Surgery (Assistant Prof. Median)$600,500.00$214.96Medium58.2
Obstetrics and Gynecology$336,000.00$123.26Medium5847
Orthopaedic Surgery$557,000.00$207.91Medium5747
Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation$322,000.00$147.7645.4
Plastic Surgery$576,000.00$230.77Medium52
Pulmonary Med$353,000.00$119.77Medium61.4
Radiation Oncology (Assistant Prof. Median)$393,734.00$158.36Low51.8
Total Average$381,233.35$147.4453.9

And the estimated physician salary per hour by specialty (orthopaedic surgery highlighted in red):

Orthopaedic Surgeon Hourly Salary

Orthopaedic Surgeons make $207 an hour on average

Note: when data were unavailable for weeks worked per year, 48 weeks was used as an estimate to calculate the estimated hourly salary.

Getting AOA (Med School Honors) Helps in Becoming an Orthopaedic Surgeon

Medical school is one of the most challenging aspects of becoming a doctor. Many medical schools have established Alpha Omega Alpha (AOA) branches to recognize top students’ hard work and dedication.

Alpha Omega Alpha (AOA) is the medical school honors society for students who excel in their studies and demonstrate an exemplary commitment to professionalism and leadership. Each medical school may elect up to 20% of their graduating class to be inducted into AOA.

Induction into AOA is a prestigious honor that carries with it a variety of benefits. AOA members may be eligible for special scholarships and fellowships and can often receive priority consideration for residency positions.

The AOA advantage is particularly notable for the most competitive fields and/or residency programs. The 2022 Match data showed that the match rate for US medical school seniors with AOA membership was 27% greater than that of US seniors without AOA membership in orthopaedic surgery. In other words, AOA membership provided an advantage to matching into an orthopaedic surgery residency.

AOA Membership Advantage for Orthopaedic Surgery 2022

AOA membership correlated with a 27% match rate advantage for Orthopaedic Surgery in the 2022 Match

See this article for more on AOA medical schools and the importance of class rank for matching.

Do You Need to Attend a Top School to Become an Orthopaedic Surgeon?

When pursuing a career in orthopaedic surgery, attending a top medical school can make a difference in matching into your desired specialty. According to a survey of program directors, over half of those surveyed reported considering applicants’ med school reputation when considering whom to interview, giving it an importance score of 3.4 out of 5.

Moreover, graduating from a school in the top 40 for NIH funding is associated with a 13% increase in the likelihood of matching into orthopaedic surgery as a field. This is potentially because top medical schools have more resources and access to clinical experience, which can help prepare students for the rigors of the specialty.

That said, it is important to remember that the name of the school alone does not guarantee success in any field. While attending a top medical school may have advantages, it is ultimately up to the individual to make the most of the opportunities presented. And while there is an advantage to being from a more prestigious institution, one’s record at the school will matter much more, including things like USMLE scores, class rank, and letters of recommendation.

Top 40 med school Orthopaedic Surgery match 2022

Graduating from a medical school ranked in the top 40 by NIH funding correlated with a 13% match rate advantage for Orthopaedic Surgery in the 2022 Match

Does an MPH or MBA Help You Become an Orthopaedic Surgeon?

Medical training is long and arduous. Remarkably, many students consider completing other degrees before, after, or even while pursuing their medical studies. Degrees such as Master of Public Health (MPH) and Master of Business Administration (MBA) may seem attractive to potential orthopaedic surgery residents due to their additional qualifications. But do these additional degrees give applicants an edge in the residency application process?

The truth is that having an additional degree may not matter as much as one thinks. We crunched the numbers on the match rate for graduating students from MD schools for those with non-PhD other degrees vs. those that did not have a second degree. In orthopaedic surgery, the match rate was 8% lower for those with degrees like an MPH or MBA. This implies that having a second degree that isn’t a Ph.D. doesn’t appear to help your chances of matching into orthopaedic surgery and even hurt them (moderately).

Orthopaedic Surgery other degree MBA MPH advantage 2022

Having another degree like an MBA or MPH correlated with a -8% match rate disadvantage for Orthopaedic Surgery in the 2022 Match

It’s important to note that this study only looked at the overall match rates of medical students with another degree. The data doesn’t look at the type of degree, the school it was obtained from, and the quality of the applicant’s experience and credentials.

Having a second degree could open up some additional career opportunities. For instance, having an MPH or MBA may prove beneficial for those looking to go into healthcare administration or research.

Concluding Thoughts

Becoming an orthopaedic surgeon is a challenging but rewarding career path. It is perfect for those who love anatomy, being decisive, and working as part of a team in intense situations. With hard work, dedication, and a desire to help others, orthopaedic surgeons can make a real difference in the world of healthcare.

Looking for an Orthopaedic Surgery Residency Advisor?

Looking for an orthopaedic surgery residency advisor? Want help writing your personal statement? Need effective strategies for interviewing? Do you have things on your application – e.g., low USMLE scores, failed USMLEs, no research, IMG status, or others – you need help overcoming?

Be sure to check out our Residency Advisor service.

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Cardiology is key for impressive USMLE scores. Master cardiology from a Harvard-trained anesthesiologist who scored USMLE 270 with these 130+ high-yield flash cards. You’ll be begging for cardio questions - even if vitals make you queasy.