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Orthopaedic Surgeon


Picture this scenario: one afternoon, while you are ice skating with a bunch of friends, you slip and fall hard on your wrist. Snap! Your wrist breaks and you probably feel a great deal of pain and agony. Your friends rush you to the hospital and chances are, you will see an orthopaedic surgeon - a specialist in the surgery of bones.

Orthopaedics is a medical specialty concerned with the diagnosis, care and treatment of patients with musculoskeletal disorders. They tend to our bones, joints, ligaments, tendons, muscles and nerves, or everything in our bodies that allows us to move. While many orthopaedic surgeons work as general surgeons, fixing broken bones, others may specialize in specific areas such as: adult reconstructive orthopaedics, foot and ankle orthopaedics, hand surgery, musculoskeletal oncology, orthopaedic sports medicine, orthopaedic surgery of the spine, orthopaedic trauma and pediatric orthopaedics.

Although orthopaedic surgeons operate to restore functions lost as a result of injury or disease of bones, joints, muscles, tendons, ligaments or nerves, they are also involved in all aspects of health care pertaining to the musculoskeletal system. They use medical, physical and rehabilitative methods as well as surgical methods.

Orthopaedic surgeons may practice the following four types of rehabilitation therapies and surgeries on patients: arthroscopy, laser surgery, laboratory-cloned cartilage or shoulder arthroplasty. Arthroscopic surgery uses the latest techniques in arthroscopy to scope out an area for detection and treatment of a muscular disorder. Laser surgery specialists perform surgery, in which the laser is used for removing or sculpting torn cartilage in a joint. This technique is helpful in trimming and shaping the torn areas of orthopaedic injuries.

Those working with laboratory-cloned cartilage are among those on the leading edge of orthopaedic medicine. They implant laboratory-cloned cartilage into a patient's damaged knee to help repair tissue on patients with damaged knee cartilage. Articular chondrocyte implantation provides new alternatives for selected patients. The shoulder arthroplasty procedure replaces the ball and socket in the shoulder joint. This surgery often is used after a sports-related fracture or in older individuals with either osteoarthritis or rheumatoid arthritis.

Orthopaedic surgeons work closely with other health care professionals, such as rheumatologists, and often serve as consultants to other physicians. These days, many doctors are pulled to the field of orthopaedic surgery due to the rise and interest in sports medicine.
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  Interests and Skills  
Orthopaedic surgeons are interested in helping people with disorders of the bones and skeletal systems. They have the intellectual ability required to successfully complete the academic training and to pursue a course of lifelong learning and the stamina required to work long hours. They have excellent communication skills and can get along with people well and instill confidence. They will need emotional strength and maturity, and passion, empathy and energy.

Orthopaedic surgeons should enjoy finding solutions to problems, dealing with people, and directing the work of others. They must also be proficient in orthopaedic medicine - they must apply the knowledge to diagnose illnesses. Also, ethics is a strong point for these types of people because they have to do what is right for their patients with their best interests in mind.

  Typical Tasks  
  • Diagnose and treat diseases of the bones and the musculoskeletal system and their functions
  • Examine patients for symptoms indicative of bone disorders, order laboratory tests, x-rays and other diagnostic procedures and consult with other medical practitioners to evaluate patients' rheumatology and arthritic problems
  • Perform surgery and transplants of the bone and muscles
  • Prescribe and administer appropriate medications and treatments, which may involve giving simple lifestyle advice
  • Advise patients on health care, especially for diabetics and counsel patients on exercises and preventative health care
  • Study diagnostic images and electrocardiograph recordings to aid in making diagnoses
  • Coordinate their work with nurses, social workers, rehabilitation therapists, pharmacists, psychologists and other health care providers
  • Teach medical students and other health professionals
  • Orthopaedic surgeons generally work long, irregular hours; at least 60 hours per week. Some work on-call, meaning that they are dedicated to helping anyone with broken bones or muscle injuries, which occur at all hours of the day and night. Others might focus their work more on special patients and perform specific types of surgery.

  Workplaces, Employers and Industries  
  • Most orthopaedic surgeons work in the hospital, performing surgery on those with bone disorders and fractures. Others work in office and clinical settings, meeting with patients. Some orthopaedic surgeons might teach at universities and hospitals, conducting research, working in laboratories or working for pharmaceutical companies.

  Long Term Career Potential  
After the many years of school, training and residency that orthopaedic surgeons must go through, chances are by the time they become professional surgeons, they will work in the field for a long time. Becoming an orthopaedic surgeon is like getting a huge promotion to begin with. However, they can always learn new skills, add more patients, or change jobs.

They may work as directors of research, sports medicine doctors, hospital administrators, medical school administrators, and teachers in medical schools and residency programs. Orthopaedic surgeons may manage clinics or do research for pharmaceutical companies. They may also write and publish in scientific and medical journals or take jobs in medical public relations.

  Educational Paths  
Becoming an orthopaedic surgeon requires a long educational road, so be prepared for a lifelong learning experience. Most start with a Bachelor of Science degree, however some Bachelor of Arts graduates may be accepted into medical school programs. While in high school, take math and science classes. Also, not all medical schools require a bachelor's degree and with good marks, some students can get accepted after two years of undergraduate study. Check with the school for their requirements before applying.

Orthopaedic surgeons complete four years of medical school and then complete a one- to two-year internship in general studies. After that, orthopaedic surgeons will complete a five-year residency program at a hospital followed by one or two years of extra subspecialty training. Completion of the qualifying licensing examinations is required to practice medicine. Licensure by the regional licensing authority is required.

Finally, before entering medical school, volunteer in a hospital, nursing home or community center. This will give you valuable experience in dealing with people who need help and what it is like to work as a doctor.

Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014-15 Edition, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/
Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Employment Statistics, 2002, http://www.bls.gov/oes/2002/oes_nat.htm

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