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

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by Yousmle Staff in Career

Orthopedic surgery vs. internal medicine is one of the 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. internal 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. Internal 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.

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

According to recent data, orthopedists earn an average annual salary of $573,000, while internists have a lower average salary of $273,000. 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 internists earn less with $273,000 annually

Orthopedic Surgery vs. Internal 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 internal medicine was 2%, 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 Internal Medicine

Orthopedic surgery had a 34.2% unmatched rate, while internal medicine had a 2% unmatched rate among US seniors

Training Path: Residency

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

Internal 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. Internal Medicine: Work-Life Balance

Work-life balance is a crucial factor for many medical professionals. Internists 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. However, it’s worth mentioning that this also means internists are thought to be more easily replaced, as they don’t typically maintain a panel of patients like their orthopedic surgery counterparts.

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. Internal medicine averages 51 weekly working hours, ranking in the middle of 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 internists work slightly fewer hours, at 51 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, internists spend more time, about 18 hours per week, due to extensive diagnostic tests.

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

Orthopedic surgeons work on admin/paperwork an average of 14 hours per week, while internists work higher hours, at 18 per week.

Training Duration and Subspecialties

The training duration is a key aspect to consider when choosing between orthopedic surgery vs. internal medicine. Internal 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. Internal 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 internal 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 internal 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 internal medicine ranked at the lower end with 61% of internists feeling the same way.

Job Satisfaction Rate By Medical Specialty in the US

Orthopedic surgeons reported a 95% job satisfaction rate, while internists reported the lowest satisfaction with 61%

That being said, the burnout rates for orthopedic surgery were 45%, near the lower end of all medical specialties. In comparison, internal medicine had a burnout rate of 60% ranking at the upper end of all medical specialties.

Burnout Rate By Medical Specialty in the US

Orthopedic surgeons have a burnout rate of 45%, while internists have a higher burnout rate of 60%.

Orthopedic Surgery vs. Internal Medicine Comparison

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

AspectOrthopedic SurgeryInternal 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.Stable role for primary healthcare and managing various medical conditions
Training PathTypically involves 5 years of orthopedic surgery residencyTypically involves 3 years of internal medicine residency.
LifestylePredictable work schedule and increased opportunities for time off, but involve on-call responsibilities for trauma or accident casesMore predictable work hours; may involve on-call responsibilities, long working hours, and outpatient clinic duties
Administrative PaperworkModerate documentation requirements for surgery notes, consults, and orders.Higher administrative requirements.
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 problem-solving skills, ability to handle diverse patient needs.

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. internal 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.

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