FAQ: Orthopedic Specialists

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 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
    • Passed exams to become a diplomate of the American Board of Orthopaedic Surgery
  • Fellowship Training: One year of specialized orthopedic training 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 Orthopaedic 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 Orthopaedic 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 is the period of medical training that a physician undertakes after completing medical school and residency. During this time, usually one year, the physician is known as a fellow and spends that time focusing on a specific subspecialty of medicine or surgery. A fellowship-trained surgeon has undergone at least one fellowship in orthopedic surgery.

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 primary care sports medicine doctor?

A primary care sports medicine doctor is a nonsurgical expert in the field of sports medicine. Either through advanced fellowship training or through years of clinical experience, a primary care sports medicine doctor has learned the skills to take care of athletes of all ages, sports, and levels of competition. Primary care sports medicine doctors often serve as team doctors to professional sports teams or are personal doctors to elite level athletes.

What is a nurse practitioner? 

Nurse practitioners are registered nurses who have undergone higher education and additional training. They are licensed to take medical histories; examine and diagnose patients; educate, guide, and treat patients through therapeutic activity; order and interpret laboratory tests and imaging studies; prescribe medications; treat injuries and conditions; and assist in surgeries. Nurse practitioners have either a master’s degree or a doctoral degree in nursing and are required to pass a national certification examination. They can practice medicine on their own or elect to practice under a doctor.

What is a physician assistant?

Physician assistants are healthcare professionals that are licensed to examine, order and interpret tests, and diagnose and treat patients with the supervision of a doctor as part of a healthcare team. PAs have their master's degree and undergo 6 – 7 years of education before obtaining a national certification. Depending on the type of medical setting, physician assistants practice in offices, hospitals, and also assist surgeons in the operating room. PAs provide a broad range of healthcare services that are similar to those you receive from a doctor. They are trained to recognize when patients need the attention from their supervising doctor.

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.