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Orthopedic Surgery vs. Family Medicine: Which Specialty is Right for You?

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by Yousmle Staff in Career

Orthopedic surgery vs. family medicine is one of the biggest debates among medical students interested in physiology. Both specialties allow you to explore the complex workings of the human body and use your skills to improve patient outcomes. However, they also have significant differences, such as the scope of practice, the work environment, and the training requirements.

How do you decide which one is right for you? In this article, we will provide helpful information and tips to help you make an intelligent decision on orthopedic surgery vs. family medicine and find a fulfilling career that matches your interests and abilities. We will also help you evaluate practical factors such as job availability, salary, and training duration.

Orthopedic Surgery vs. Family Medicine: Salary and Job Security

Orthopedic surgery might be your specialty if you want to earn a lot of money and have a steady demand for your services. But be prepared for a competitive job market, even if you graduate from a prestigious program.

Family medicine, meanwhile, offers more job openings. You can easily find a hospital that needs family physicians, and the career outlook is positive, even if the salary is not as high as orthopedic surgery. But family medicine also comes with some challenges, such as higher burnout and less job security, which we will discuss later.

According to recent data, orthopedic surgeons earn an average annual salary of $573,000, while family physicians have a lower average salary of $255,000. Of all medical specialties, only plastic surgeons have higher average annual salaries than orthopedists, with plastic surgeons earning $619,000

Estimated Physician Average Yearly Salary by Medical Specialty in the US

Orthopedists earn $573,000 per year on average, while family physicians earn less with $255,000 annually

Orthopedic Surgery vs. Family Medicine: Competitiveness

Here we can assess the competitiveness of a specialty by looking at the unmatched rate – the % of people who apply and do not match into their preferred specialty. The unmatched percentage among US Seniors for family medicine was 2.1%, making it less competitive among US residencies. In comparison, orthopedic surgery was the 2nd most competitive residency in the 2022 Match, with a 34.2% unmatched rate among US Seniors. Only plastic surgery had a higher percentage of 37.3%.

Orthopedic Surgery vs Family Medicine

Orthopedic surgery had a 34.2% unmatched rate, while family medicine had a 2.1% unmatched rate among US seniors

Training Path: Residency

The training pathways for orthopedic surgery vs. family medicine are not the same. Family medicine involves a three-year family medicine residency. Orthopedic surgery involves a five-year orthopedic residency

Family medicine residencies are typically less competitive than orthopedic surgery residencies. Your USMLE scores, med school, and research are the main things for residency applications. Research is also a big thing for fellowship applications, and your residency program counts more, but your USMLE scores matter much less.

Orthopedic Surgery vs. Family Medicine: Work-Life Balance

Work-life balance is a crucial factor for many medical professionals. Family physicians often enjoy a better work-life balance due to the nature of their work. They usually have predetermined working hours, leading to more predictable schedules.

In comparison, orthopedic surgeons often have demanding surgical schedules and may work long hours in the operating room. They may also be on-call for emergencies such as trauma or accidents.

On average, orthopedic surgeons work 52.9 hours per week, which is above the middle of all medical specialties. In comparison, family physicians average 48 weekly working hours, ranking below the middle of all medical specialties.

Estimated Physician Weekly Working Hours by Medical Specialty in the US

Orthopedic surgeons work an average of 52.9 hours per week, while family physicians work fewer hours, at 48 per week.

Orthopedic surgeons require less documentation, such as referral letters and diagnostic tests, resulting in an estimated 14 hours of administrative work per week. In contrast, family physicians spend more time, about 17 hours per week, ranking near the upper end of all medical specialties.

Estimated Physician Admin/Paperwork Hours by Medical Specialty in the US

Orthopedists work on admin/paperwork an average of 14 hours per week, while family physicians work higher hours, at 17 per week.

Training Duration and Subspecialties

The training duration is a key aspect to consider when choosing between orthopedic surgery vs. family medicine. Family medicine has a three-year training period, while orthopedic surgery has a minimum of five years.

After completing an orthopedic surgery residency program, some surgeons may choose to pursue additional fellowships to further specialize in a particular aspect of orthopedic surgery. This can increase the length of your orthopedic surgery training.

Orthopedic Surgery vs. Family Medicine: Job Satisfaction and Burnout Rates

Job satisfaction plays a significant role in career fulfillment. According to various studies, orthopedic surgery tends to have higher job satisfaction rates than family medicine. Many orthopedic surgeons express contentment with their career choice and would choose it again if given the chance. Additionally, orthopedic surgery has lower reported burnout rates than family medicine.

According to recent data, orthopedic surgery ranked near the upper end of all medical specialties with 95% of orthopedic surgeons stating that they would choose the same specialty again, while family medicine ranked lower with 66% of family physicians feeling the same way.

Job Satisfaction Rate By Medical Specialty in the US

Orthopedists reported a 95% job satisfaction rate, while family physicians reported lower satisfaction with 66%

That being said, the burnout rates for orthopedic surgery were 45%, near the lower end of all medical specialties. In comparison, family medicine had a burnout rate of 57% ranking above the middle of all medical specialties.

Burnout Rate By Medical Specialty in the US

Orthopedists have a burnout rate of 45%, while family physicians have a higher burnout rate of 57%.

Orthopedic Surgery vs. Family Medicine Comparison

To provide a visual overview, here’s a table comparing orthopedic surgery and family medicine:

AspectOrthopedic SurgeryFamily Medicine
Average SalaryHigh, especially those focusing on high-demand joint/spine proceduresLower than orthopedic surgery
Job SecurityHigh demand field as population ages. Injuries and sports will ensure job stability.High demand due to primary care physician shortage and increasing healthcare needs
Training PathTypically involves 5 years of orthopedic surgery residencyTypically involves 3 years of family medicine residency
LifestylePredictable work schedule and increased opportunities for time off, but involve on-call responsibilities for trauma or accident casesTypically more regular working hours, but may also have emergency consultations
Administrative PaperworkModerate documentation requirements for surgery notes, consults, and orders.High documentation requirements such as notes, referrals, and managing records
Job SatisfactionGenerally high, satisfaction tied to successful surgeries and patient outcomesLower

Burnout RatesLow to Moderate, depending on the workload and stress associated with surgical proceduresHigher
PersonalityDetail-oriented, mechanically inclined. Enjoy operative procedures.Strong communication and interpersonal skills, ability to handle diverse patient needs and concerns

Please note that this table serves as a general comparison. To determine the most suitable career for you, consider your personal and career priorities and goals.

Concluding Thoughts

Choosing the right specialty between orthopedic surgery vs. family medicine depends heavily on your priorities. To determine this, try reverse engineering your ideal life and identify your top priority. A helpful exercise is to write down the top five things you want to achieve in your career and personal life. Knowing these priorities will make finding a career that aligns with them easier. Often, the biggest obstacle is not a lack of knowledge about different fields but a lack of self-awareness about our own preferences.

Want FREE Cardiology Flashcards?

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.

Subscribe