Orthopedic Surgeon  What They Do

Just the Facts


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dotOrthopedic surgeons examine, diagnose and treat diseases and injuries of the musculoskeletal system with surgery and corrective mechanical devices. They take care of bones, joints, ligaments, tendons, muscles and nerves -- everything that allows you to move, work and be active.

"The competition for orthopedic residency programs is significant now as these have been the most desirable of all residencies over the last decade," says Dr. Jacob Rozbruch. "Sports medicine is probably the enticement that made our field so desirable."

dotWhile most orthopedists practice general orthopedics, some may specialize in specific areas.

"We have 206 bones in our body," says Dr. Elaine Joughin. "If you think about it, there are tons of things that could be a problem in the hand and wrist, forearm, shoulder, spine, hips, knees and feet.

"Orthopedic surgeons have become specialized in each of these areas, as well as sports medicine, rehabilitation and pediatrics. It's a huge field. We are definitely becoming more specialized and dealing only with one part of the body and becoming really good at it, especially in the bigger centers. In the smaller centers...an orthopedic surgeon still has to do all of those kinds of things."

dotOrthopedic surgeons work long, irregular hours. About one-third of all full-time physicians work 60 hours or more a week.

"The hours depend on what you specialize in. In pediatric orthopedics, for instance, we have to take calls. Taking a call means that we have to attend to anyone who has broken bones, acute muscle or tendon injuries, or soft tissue injuries right when they get injured, which can occur [at any time of] night," says Joughin.

"When you're working, you work very hard. In children's orthopedics, I don't have to work quite as hard because children tend to go to bed at 10 at night. The general rule is, once it reaches 10 at night, generally speaking, you're free," says Joughin.

At a Glance

Care for bones and muscles

  • One-third of all full-time physicians work 60 hours or more a week
  • Employment and income opportunities are better in rural areas
  • Some may specialize in specific areas such as the shoulder, spine or knees