What is an orthopedic doctor? What is an orthopedic surgeon?

An orthopedic doctor, also known as an orthopedist, is a medical doctor (MD) or a doctor of osteopathy (DO) who specializes in the musculoskeletal system—bones, joints, muscles, ligaments, tendons, and nerves. 

Orthopedic surgeons are specialized in the musculoskeletal system; many orthopedists specialize in certain areas of the body, such as foot and ankle, hand and wrist, or back, neck, and spine. Additionally, orthopedic doctors may focus on a specific field of orthopedics, like pediatrics, sports medicine, or trauma. 

What is the educational training of an orthopedic surgeon?

Board-certified orthopedic surgeons have successfully completed a minimum of 13 years of formal education:

  • Undergraduate: Four years of study in a college or university
  • Medical School: Four years of study in a school of medicine
  • Orthopedic Residency: Five years of study at a major medical institution
  • Board-Certified, Fellowship-Trained Orthopedic Surgeons Have Completed:
    • Undergraduate: Four years of study in a college or university
    • Medical School: Four years of study in a school of medicine
    • Orthopedic Residency: Five years of study at a major medical institution
  • Fellowship Training: One year of specialized education in an accredited fellowship program

All orthopedic surgeons continue their medical education yearly to stay current in orthopedic knowledge and skills.

What is a board-certified orthopedic surgeon?

Once a doctor has completed an orthopedic residency at a major medical institution, the American Board of Orthopedic Surgery offers a written test to become board-eligible. If the written test is passed, the doctor becomes “eligible” to take the oral test, after two years in practice. When the doctor passes the oral exam, the doctor becomes “board-certified” and is considered a Diplomate of the American Board of Orthopedic Surgery.

The intent of the certification process, as defined by the board members of the American Board of Medical Specialties, is to provide assurance to the public that a certified medical specialist has successfully completed an approved educational program and an evaluation, including an examination process designed to assess the knowledge, experience, and skills requisite to the provision of high-quality patient care in that specialty.

What is a fellowship-trained orthopedic surgeon?

A fellowship-trained orthopedic surgeon is a doctor who has completed a minimum of 13 years of education and has completed an additional year of specialty training in a specific field of orthopedic surgery in an accredited fellowship program. There are fellowships in all several areas of orthopedics: foot and ankle, hand and wrist, and back, neck and spine. Additionally, orthopedic surgeons may focus on a specific field of orthopedics, like pediatrics, sports medicine, or trauma.

What is a physiatrist (physical medicine & rehabilitation doctor)?

A physiatrist is a medical doctor specializing in nonsurgical pain management, physical medicine and rehabilitation, and neurological studies.

What is a physician assistant?

A physician assistant commonly referred to as a PA is a healthcare professional licensed to practice medicine with doctor supervision. Physician assistants can treat patients and write prescriptions. PAs are trained to recognize when patients need the attention of a supervising doctor or specialist. Physician assistants see patients in the office as well as assist the doctors in surgery.

What is a physical therapist?

A physical therapist is licensed by the state and specializes in therapy programs for musculoskeletal injuries and disorders, sports injuries, postoperative rehabilitation, and massage therapy.

What is an occupational therapist?

An occupational therapist is licensed by the state and specializes in the treatment of the upper extremity (hand, wrist, elbow, and shoulder) and work injuries. The services provided by occupational therapists include patient education, joint range of motion, adaptive techniques, splinting, and workplace evaluations.

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