Last Updated on January 11, 2023
Sports Medicine Jobs Guide
For many young athletes, sports medicine is a career path that allows prospective professionals to combine their passion for sports and athletics with the prospect of helping athletes recover from injuries to get back to the top of their game. Sports medicine is focused on health and peak performance, and it holds the prospect of a fascinating, satisfying, and fulfilling career in specialized medicine. Sports medicine deals with injury prevention and recovery related to fitness and exercise, and includes helping professional athletes overcome the challenges that will invariably arise in time.
The journey to becoming a specialist in sports medicine can be a challenging road, depending on what your ultimate goal is. Some careers in sports medicine only require a master’s degree, while others at the very top of the sports medicine industry require medical school, residency, and perhaps time spent pursuing an even more specialized expertise. Regardless of where you hope to end up on the list below, you can be sure that the work you’ll be doing in your professional life will revolve around helping people recover and get stronger.
Potential Jobs in the Field of Sports Medicine:
- Athletic Trainer
- An athletic trainer would be helping to diagnose injuries, provide emergency first aid during sporting events, and also helping prepare athletes to properly prevent injuries.
- Exercise Physiologists
- An exercise physiologist works with a patient to develop an exercise plan that is best for the body, their goals, and is safe and effective. They could be working with athletes recovering from an injury, or healthy athletes looking to maximize performance.
- Kinesiology is the science of physical activity. A kinesiotherapist would work under the direction of a physician and helps patients to determine what exercises and training would be most beneficial to help the patient reach their goals. In the world of sports, this means what kind of exercise should the athlete be doing to gain the highest performance.
- Orthopedic Nurse
- An orthopedic nurse would work under the scope of a licensed physician and usually as part of a team. The team may be performing orthopedic surgeries (such as repairing broken bones), following up with the patient, helping plan treatment plans, and collaborating with the patient on how to prevent future injuries.
- A physiatrist is a specialist in neural, muscular, and bone specialist that uses a holistic approach to improve a patients’ condition. A physiatrist would help athlete’s overcome injuries and regain strength and movement.
- Physical Therapist
- This is similar to the role of a kinesiotherapist, however physical therapists generally require a specific certification or degree (like a doctor of physical therapy degree). A physical therapist would be making diagnoses regarding the patient based on their movement, pain, and other observations. Also, they would be responsible for putting together detailed treatment plans to improve their patient’s condition.
- Sports Medicine Physician
- Many professional teams have a team doctor on staff, who would be a sports medicine physician. This doctor would be well versed and trained in musculoskeletal science, but would not be able to perform surgeries. However, they can advise other members of the team’s medical staff and help provide specialized medical care for all team members.
- Recreational Therapist
- Recreational therapy is sometimes known as therapeutic recreation and revolves around immersing patients in activities and recreation to improve their mental and physical health. A recreational therapist would be designing programs and activities based on the patient’s ability, and goals. Many times, these activities are done in larger groups to encourage bonding with other patients.
- Health, Exercise Science, or Physical Education Teacher
- The vast majority of public and private schools have a set position in their budget for a full-time teacher that will lead students in games and activities as well as teaching them about the human body, the effects of exercise on the body, and how to live a healthy lifestyle. While this may not be as high-paying as other jobs on the list, the work/life balance factor must be considered also. In addition to having all major holidays off throughout the year, the biggest perk is having summers off, which no other jobs on this list can boast!
Sports Medicine by the Numbers:
The salaries are going to vary greatly based on the job title and responsibility. As an example, in 2019 the median pay for an athletic trainer was $48,440 per year, and this field is experiencing a 19% job growth [source]. An exercise physiologist is in the same ballpark, with the median salary at just over $49,000, and is also experiencing considerable growth of 10% [source]. The median pay for an orthopaedic nurse is over $70,000 per year [source], and working as a team physician or specialist can easily net you a six figure salary.
What skills are necessary to be successful in this field:
- Determination. If a job seeker is starting from square one with no education or experience in the field, then it will be a fairly lengthy road to becoming the team doctor for a major market professional sports team. However, don’t let that discourage you! A job in sports medicine is possible.
- Communication Skills. It is necessary for an athletic trainer or exercise physiologist to explain in a way that the athlete can understand what is going on with their body, how to prevent future injuries, and helping to map out the best road to recovery.
- Trustworthiness. Your patients need to trust you and your judgment. Maybe even more importantly, if you are working with a sports organization, the coaches and representatives of the athletes need to trust you as well. If you are well versed, honest, and straightforward this should not be a problem.
- Dedication. Working for a sports organization directly may require you to be traveling for large stretches of time, working nights and weekends, and of course spending a lot of time away from friends and family.
- Innate curiosity. There is so much to learn in this field, that it rewards someone who is really curious and hungry for knowledge, especially knowledge relating to the physiology of the human body.
- Empathy. Being able to relate to your patients and see circumstances from their position will make you a great sports medical professional. Pain is one of the few medical indicators that is 100% subjective. Someone in Sports Medicine will be diagnosing and treating pain in their patients on a daily basis. Being able to empathize with their pain while not experiencing can be difficult, but is necessary in this field.
How to Land a Job in Sports Medicine:
- For many positions, advanced schooling–master’s degrees and in some cases medical school–is required. For almost any job in this field, a Bachelor’s Degree is only the beginning of the journey, which is not surprising given the specialized knowledge required to care for a broad range of patients. To be a sports medicine physician requires an undergraduate degree in pre-med or biology, medical school, and then at least a year of residency (more if you are pursuing a specialization). However, the good news is that for many other attractive positions–like an athletic trainer, for example–require an undergraduate degree plus a masters and/or certification that can be achieved in a year or two. Considering the salary potential and the work/life balance that many of these positions offer, they are well worth the investment required!
- Like any other job, building up a network of other professionals in the field will pay dividends. They are conferences around the world that will bring doctors and professionals into the same space. This is an amazing opportunity to pick the brains of a collective that represents an unbelievable wealth of knowledge. Search on Google and see if there are any conferences near your area.
- A base level of experience is necessary for most entry level jobs. Of course experience is needed for the first job, and you cannot get the first job without experience, one way around this is internships and residency programs. Many sports medicine and medical programs have an intern and residency network for their students. This first bit of experience on your resume can be extremely helpful to land that first job.
What Kind of Job Can I Get in Sports Medicine Without Going to Medical School?
- A physical therapist does not need to go to medical school, but does require a degree in a related field and a Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) Degree. Also, you will need to get certified in the state you are practicing. The process of obtaining a certification varies state to state.
- Athletic trainers do not require med school, but may require a degree in sports medicine or a related field, as well as local certifications.
- Exercise physiologists generally require a degree in sports medicine or a related field, and may or may not need local certifications.
- Recreational therapists do not require med school, but generally organizations hiring a RT will mandate a bachelor’s degree and local certifications.
- A sports medicine, health, or exercise science teacher will not require med school, but generally will need a certification or bachelor’s degree related to the field they are teaching as well as a teaching certificate valid in the state of the school.
Sports Medicine Careers FAQs
According to Salary.com the range for a sports medicine physician is between $206,910 to $308,330. This is one of the highest-paying positions in the field of sports medicine. Other positions like athletic trainers generally pay between $46,530 to $56,057. Exercise Physiologists can expect to make between $48,613 to $62,199. An Orthopedic Nurse Practitioner generally makes between $109,100 to $124,100 per year. While teachers and professors who are teaching this subject make such a wide range depending on their experience, the level they are teaching, and the location, it may be wise to do additional research to get exact figures depending on what you are trying to teach and where.