What is an orthopedic surgeon?

An orthopedic surgeon is a surgeon that focuses their area of treatment to the musculoskeletal system. We treat a wide range of pathology and patients. As a generalized orthopedic surgeon, you can expect to treat sports injuries, osteoarthritis, fix broken bones, and more. Many orthopedic surgeons choose to continue their education with a one year fellowship following completion of their residency. These fellowships offer training in the following categories: sports medicine, orthopedic trauma surgery, adult reconstruction (hip and knee replacements), hand surgery, spine surgery, shoulder and elbow surgery, pediatrics, orthopedic oncology, etc.

Why did I choose orthopedics?

Orthopedics is unique in that you are fixing a structural problem in the body and allowing people to return to their everyday lives with less disability. It combines the mental challenges of medicine with surgical skill to help heal patients and return them to their lives.

A day in the life of an orthopedic surgery resident

Each program will be different, but all programs function somewhat the same. Being a surgical resident means that you will start work early! I remember being in undergrad and thinking that those 8am start times for classes were terrible. In orthopedics you are often responsible for seeing all your patients that are admitted to the hospital before 6:30 or 7:00 am EACH morning. That means that you are often at the hospital around 5:00 AM each day. You read that right. Our days often start at 5:00 AM. Following seeing the patients you are responsible for, most programs have a scheduled hour of education each morning that either residents or attendings (doctors that oversee residents) give. After the morning education you are off to “start” your surgeries or clinic for the day.

As a resident surgeon, you will always be under the direct supervision of your attending while in the operating room. Early in your training you will begin by learning how to suture skin and close surgical wounds. As you advance in your skill set, you will progressively participate in each surgery with the goal of mastering the fundamental orthopedic surgical procedures. One important thing to remember is that learning surgery is a humbling process that takes a lifetime to master. You must be prepared to be a student of your craft from the time you start residency until the time you retire.

One of the most important and hated aspects of orthopedic residency is “taking call”. When you take call, you are responsible for patients in the emergency department that have orthopedic injuries or conditions. This can range from traumatized patients with multiple broken bones, kids that have fallen off their bikes, and infections of bones and joints. The unpredictability of the workload can be hard to manage. Call shifts are often broken down into one 24hr shift or two 12 hour shifts. One important thing to remember is that people get hurt and sick at all times during the day and night. That means that a SIGNIFICANT amount of work an orthopedic surgery resident does is in the middle of the night. Thankfully, with new ACGME regulations, most programs give residents a “post call day” that relieves you of responsibility and lets you get some rest after your midnight ER consults.
Regardless of which program you are a part of they are difficult. They will challenge you both mentally and physically. The best chance you have at success is finding a program that fits your mentality and that you mesh with the residents around you.

How to become an orthopedic surgery resident

Ortho residencies are know to be one of the harder residencies to get a spot in. To be successful you must do well in medical school and on your USMLE or COMLEX (MD and DO board exams). Research definitely helps but is not an absolute requirement. Networking and getting strong letters of recommendation are extremely helpful. If you have a program local to your medical school or undergrad most are willing to let you come to their morning report, which helps teach you the fundamentals of orthopedics but also shows interest and motivation to the current residents and faculty.

How long does it take to become a fully licensed orthopedic surgeon?

To become a fully licensed orthopedic surgeon you must complete a bachelor degree, 4 years of medical school, 5 years of an orthopedic surgery residency. Most will complete an additional one year of a fellowship for further subspecialty training. For me my post high school training will likely be 14 years before I am truly fully licensed.

Must have resources for orthopedic surgery hopefuls

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Netter Concise Orthopedic Anatomy
This book is carried in the white coat pocket of almost every orthopedic surgery hopeful. It gives a great overview or relevant orthopedic anatomy and touches on the most common clinical disorders. A MUST HAVE for future orthopedic surgeons.

Handbook of Fractures
Great overview for students beginning to learn about the various fracture patterns that are common to orthopedics. This book covers a vast majority of PIMP questions that you will encounter during your orthopedic rotations.

Clay Dorenkamp, D.O.

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