One of the biggest wages earned in the health system is the orthopedic surgeon salary, which is a six-figure income in the USA, regardless of the level of experience. The “bone doctors” are best financially rewarded in the United States of America, where their average annual income is around $360,000, as indicated on payscale.com.
This income varies according to the sector of employment, number of years of practice, number and types of sub-specialties mastered, and number of hours worked in a month.
Orthopedic Surgeon Job Description
Also known as the “bone doctor”, the orthopedic surgeon (OS) is the medical doctor who deals with the bones, muscles, joints, ligaments, tendons and tissues that surround them.
In other words, the OS is the physician who diagnoses, treats and prevents the problems of the musculoskeletal system, also called locomotor system, because it enables the body to move and it protects its organs.
Here are some examples of problems which can occur to the locomotor system:
- injuries, like: fractures of bones or ligaments
- bone deformities
- illnesses, like arthritis (inflammation of joints).
Although these medical doctors are specialized in treating these problems by using surgical procedures, they also use nonsurgical methods. They treat people of all ages, from babies to elderly people.
The word “orthopedic” is sometimes spelled “orthopaedic” and it has Greek origins: it comes from the Greek words “orthos” (ορθός) – meaning straight and correct – and “paidi” (παιδί), which means “child”.
For treating and diagnosing their patients, these professionals use numerous instruments, as well as specialized medical equipment and appliances. They work within teams, in the operating rooms of hospitals or clinics, public or private. When they operate their patients, they are assisted by nurses – who give them the tools they need –, other physicians or surgeons, and various technicians and technologists, who operate computers and other medical equipment needed during the operations.
Just like any other physician, they must also communicate with their patients before and after the surgical procedures, explaining them the operation they must undergo, how to prepare for it and how to properly recover after it. When diagnosing them, they must find out from the patients how they feel and their medical history. Some of these tasks can sometimes be performed by nurses or physician assistants.
The salary of the orthopedic surgeons usually increases when these medical doctors specialize in operating certain parts of the musculoskeletal system, such as only the hands or the legs or the spine.
Some of these professionals also work in the academic field, where they teach the students who prepare for this job, and they also research in this domain of dealing with the human bones, muscles and joints.
But even if these health professionals work only in the operating rooms, they also need to inform themselves continually in their field of practice – just like any other medical doctor –, in order to keep abreast of all the latest discoveries related to the treatment of the locomotor system.
What Does an Orthopedic Surgeon Do?
People get to the orthopedists when they have or are believed to have problems with their bones, joints, muscles, ligaments or tendons. They can go to these specialists directly or they are sent to them by their family doctors or by other medical workers, depending on their options, situations and on the rules of their country.
The principal tasks of the orthopedic surgeons have been described in the section above and they are listed below:
- manipulate various medical tools for operating their patients;
- communicate with the members of their team – other surgeons, nurses, medical technicians and technologists – before, during and after the surgical procedures;
- when appropriate, communicate with other physicians for discovering the best preventive or treatment path;
- ask their patients about how they feel, their symptoms and their medical history;
- diagnose the illnesses and health problems that are related to the musculoskeletal system;
- explain to the patients (that they are going to operate) what they need to know about the operation and how to prepare for it;
- monitor the operated patients, for seeing how they recover after the surgical operation;
- teach their patients what to do in order to better recover from the surgical interventions;
- continually educate themselves, for finding out the most recent scientific discoveries about the human bones, joints, ligaments, muscles and surrounding tissues.
How to Become an Orthopedic Surgeon
The orthopedic surgeons are physicians (medical doctors) specialized in operating bones, muscles and other elements of the locomotor system. This means that they all need to graduate from an accredited medical school and then specialize in their field. The precise education and training path they need to follow for earning the right to legally practice this profession slightly differs from country to country. However, the candidate for this job has to spend many years studying and training for this position.
In the United States of America, in order to be admitted at a medical school, the future physician must have graduated from a college. After completing the four years of the medical school, those who aspire to become “bone doctors” must complete a residency program in orthopedic surgery. Then, if they want, they can undertake a fellowship program in a chosen orthopedic sub-specialty, like: foot surgery, spine surgery, etc. The orthopedic surgeon income is usually increased by the number of sub-specialties mastered.
Since, in the United States, the undergraduate education lasts at least four years, the residency – five years, and the fellowship – one or two years, it follows that, after finishing high-school, the candidates for this occupation must spend, in the USA, more than fourteen – fifteen years studying and training for this job.
Orthopedic Surgeon Education, Training and Certifications
The candidates gain the education that is required for this profession during the:
- four undergraduate (college) years – when the future physicians must take courses in biology, physics, chemistry and math;
- first two years at the medical school – when the medical students learn mostly in classrooms and laboratories, where they take courses in anatomy, pharmacology, biochemistry, psychology, etc. (as indicated on bls.gov); during these two years, they also gain some practical skills, such as examining patients, taking medical history, diagnosing diseases.
The training that is necessary for this occupation is gained during the:
- last two years at the medical school – when the students, supervised by experienced physicians, work directly with patients in hospitals and clinics;
- five years of residency – when they practice orthopaedic surgery in a hospital or clinic, under the direct or indirect supervision of an attending physician;
- one or two years of fellowship – when they train in a chosen sub-specialty: pediatric surgery, musculoskeletal oncology, foot surgery, hand surgery, spine surgery, etc.
In the USA, in order to have the right to legally practice medicine, all physicians must be licensed. So, after completing the required education and training, the first thing these “bone specialists” must do is to earn a license in the state where they intend to work. Then, they must pass a national exam. The certification is not mandatory, but it helps them to find a good job.
The Required Skills
The orthopedic surgeon wage is so high also because of the numerous and complex skills that this medical worker must have, such as:
- excellent manual dexterity – when they operate, these professionals must manipulate many different tools, sometimes for long periods of time;
- meticulousness – they work sometimes with very little tools and they might operate little bones and joints, so they must pay attention to every detail;
- proficiency in diagnosing and operating patients with problems of the musculoskeletal system – they must be very good at what they do, because any of their mistakes can lead to severe health damages for the patient, especially when it comes to the spine surgery, as the spinal column contains numerous nerves;
- good time management skills – there are some situations (when they work in an emergency setting or during winter, when many people fall on the ice, or when there are too few orthopedists in the healthcare facility where they work) when they have many patients and they must treat them as soon as possible;
- good communication skills – they usually work within a team (formed of nurses, technicians, other surgeons and physicians) and they need to talk to their patients; those who ask themselves “how much does an orthopedic surgeon make?” should know that, in the private practice, the income of this specialist is influenced pretty much by his ability to communicate with his team and patients;
- patience – they must listen to their patients and offer them advice;
- endurance – during the long operations, they must not only stay focused and work without interruption for long periods of time, but they also need to stand on their feet and bend over their patients for many hours;
- eagerness to learn – thanks to the scientific and technological researches, the domain of diagnosing and treating the problems of the musculoskeletal system continuously develops and improves; therefore, they need to find out all the latest findings in their field and specialties.
Pros and Cons of Being an Orthopedic Surgeon
The advantages offered by the fact of being an orthopedist are:
- this job is challenging, because it stimulates them to find solutions for treating or preventing the damages of the bones, joints, muscles and the other parts of the locomotor system;
- this career is rewarding, since these specialists enjoy a lot of satisfaction when they restore the health of the legs or hands or spine of their patients;
- they use a variety of tools, instruments and modern equipment;
- just like any other medical doctor, these professionals are very respected, not only because of the complexity of their job, but also due to the huge education and training they have, and even because they treat some of the most important and useful parts of a human body: the hands, the legs and the spinal column;
- the orthopedic surgeon salaries are among the highest wages paid in the healthcare system; in the USA, these “bone experts” enjoy six-figure incomes even from the beginning of their career.
This job has, however, some drawbacks, such as:
- long, hard and expensive path for practicing this profession;
- having to do, sometimes, with people who are very injured;
- standing on foot and bending over patients for many hours.
Orthopedic Surgeon Job Growth
This medical profession will continue to develop in 2017, because of the continuous scientific research not only in anatomy and surgery, but also in the associated fields: physics, chemistry, oncology, computers, radiology, etc. The number of the healthcare facilities where they work is thought to grow due to the investments made in equipping the hospitals and clinics with high-tech apparatus and modern instruments; as a result, the number of these jobs will also grow.
Another factor which determines the increase of the demand of orthopaedic surgeons is represented by the baby boomers who become old – the elderlies are the most affected by the problems of joints and bones. As indicated on bls.gov, the official website of the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, the number of physician and surgeon jobs is expected to grow with fourteen percent between 2014 and 2024.
Orthopedic Surgeon Salary – How Much Do Orthopedic Surgeons Make?
The factors that determine the levels of the orthopedic surgeon pay are the same factors that influence the salaries paid for any other healthcare job:
- the region – country, state, town, area – where the specialist works;
- the number of years of practice in this position;
- the number and types of sub-specialties in which they are trained and that they can practice;
- the number of hours that the professional works during a month;
- the type of the sector where he or she works – the wages enjoyed in the private sector are higher than the ones earned in the public hospitals and clinics;
- the number and types of bonuses earned each month.
Orthopedic Surgeon Salary in the USA
As indicated on payscale.com, in 2016, in the USA, the average orthopedic surgeon salary was $360,000 per year, which is equivalent to an hourly pay of $173 and to a monthly income of $30,000 on average. The annual wage for the entry level is around $105,000, while the most experienced professionals earn more than $500,000 per year, especially in the private sector. The median pay for this occupation is around $350,000/year, which means that half of the “bone doctors” working in the USA earn more than $350,000/year, while the other half are remunerated with less than $350,000/year.
Orthopedic Surgeon Salary in the UK
In the United Kingdom, the annual wages earned by the physicians specialized in the locomotor system range between £75,000 (93,000 US dollars) and £175,000 ($218,000). This means that, at the beginning of their career, these medical doctors earn around £6,250 per month (that is approximately $7,780/month), while those with big experience enjoy over £14,500 each month ($18,000/month). Considering that a full-time year has 2,080 hours of work, it follows that the average hourly wage varies between £36 and £84 ($45 ~ $104).
Orthopedic Surgeon Salary in Canada
Those wondering “how much does an orthopedic surgeon make per year in Canada?” should know that the annual income of these health professionals ranges from C$70,000 (54,000 USD) to C$420,000 (321,000 USD). The range for the hourly pay is C$33 ~ C$202 (in US dollars: $26 ~ $154).
Orthopedic Surgeon Salary in Australia
The website payscale.com indicates an average wage for the bone specialists who work in Australia of 206,000 AUD (158,000 USD) per year, which means that the monthly earnings for this position are 17,167 AUD ($13,000) on average, while the mean hourly pay is around 100 AUD (77 USD).
The orthopedist salary is among the highest incomes earned in the healthcare system, which is something very correct, if we take account of the huge importance of this job, the great number of years of study and training that it requires and the complexity and difficulty of this occupation. These professionals are best remunerated in the United States of America, but their incomes are huge also in the UK, Canada and Australia.