Are you considering a field in the medical profession, and have an affinity for the skeletal system? You may have thought about becoming an orthopedist.
These highly-skilled doctors handle more than you think; their practices aren’t all just sprains and broken bones. Sometimes, it becomes necessary for a surgeon to step in and help replace joints or place metal rods to secure bones and tissue in place during healing.
Surgery may never have been something that interested you before, but the thought of being able to perform some of the complex surgical procedures required of this type of work is intriguing.
You might have questions about the depth of schooling necessary to perform this type of work. There are other questions you may have such as what does an orthopedic surgeon salary do? And what is the typical orthopedic surgeon salary? For answers to these questions and more, read on.
What Does an Orthopedic Surgeon Typically Do?
The job description of an orthopedic surgeon can be quite varied depending on a few factors. In general terms, an orthopedic surgeon specializes in all injuries, illnesses, damage, diseases, and traumas related to the bones, muscles, joints and connective tissues (ligaments and tendons) of the musculoskeletal system.
If you step back and look at the scope of what that covers, it is quite impressive. It is also quite intimidating. There are 206 bones in the human body. In addition, there are 650 muscles covering those bones and 360 joints connecting the bones. These numbers don’t count all the ligaments that attach bones to each other and the tendons that secure muscles to bones.
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How Much Can an Orthopedic Surgeon Salary Make?
As in all things, there are a few factors that influence the amount an orthopedic surgeon makes. In the United States, as of the time of this writing, the median average salary was $357,641. The pay can range up or down depending on factors such as:
The length of time a surgeon has been in practice dictates quite a bit about how much the salary range goes up or down. The more experienced the doctor, the higher the salary.
Where a surgeon practices can determine a lot about the salary range. Doctors in major cities make the most money, while those in smaller, rural areas make the least. This might be the opposite of what you think it should be. It may seem like there would be an oversaturation of these types of specialties in larger urban areas.
Geographical location has less to do with competition and more to do with the average income of the patients. People in or near large cities typically make more; and as such, the cost of living, including medical care is higher. On the opposite end of the spectrum are people who live in small towns.
These patients typically fall into a lower income bracket which means they don’t have the disposable income to see a doctor unless it’s an emergency.
Within orthopedics, some specialties can affect the salary range. After medical school, a doctor does a five-year residency. After that time, a doctor can go into practice or continue studying under a fellowship. It is during this fellowship period that doctors choose a sub-specialty to study and practice. Some of these specialties selected by orthopedic surgeons include pediatrics, joint replacement, and sports medicine. They can also choose to specialize in one area of the body such as shoulders or knees.
The more sensitive the specialty, the higher the salary of the doctor. Difficult areas of the body take more skill to treat. Eventually, as a doctor’s skill and ultimately reputation grows, so too does the salary.
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What Contributes to the Rising of an Orthopedic Surgeon Salary?
Aside from the items listed above, there are a few other contributing factors that can add to a doctor’s salary.
Bonuses and Profit Sharing
Some medical practices or institutions offer incentives for doctors to bring in a certain amount of patients per year. For instance, if a doctor can bring in 65 more patients than the year before, the profit of the practice increases that much. Therefore, a bonus is distributed based on that increase in profit.
On the downside, incentives decrease if the practice size dwindles and loses patients. Hospitals and clinics may also have an incentive structure that is performance-based as well.
There are times when doctors receive commissions, either for using a particular tool or prescribing one type of medication over another. This practice may not sound particularly great to the public at large, but it isn’t detrimental to the health and safety of patients.
An example is Company A makes titanium joint replacements, and Company B makes ceramic ones. Because ceramic is relatively new to the game, Company B may pay the doctor an extra $500 for every one of its brand of joint replacements used versus Company A’s titanium. Both parts are equally acceptable and useful, but using the ceramic style will result in a bonus.
What Are the Most Common Conditions Orthopedic Surgeons Treat?
In every medical specialty, some ailments are more commonly treated than others. Orthopedic surgeons, in general, see and manage the following conditions on a regular basis.
You remember that day your brother fell while skateboarding and broke his arm. Fractures are the most commonly treated medical condition an orthopedic doctor comes across. There are a few different types of fractures and a variety of treatment options available depending on the severity of the injury. In many instances, immobilization of the bone using a cast is the recommended course of treatment. Other times surgery is required to implant hardware such as metal pins and rods to connect the broken pieces of bone back together. The reason for doing so is to aid in the healing process by helping the bones stay in place if the fracture results in severe damage. Once the bone has healed, the hardware may be removed.
The course of treatment of fractures depends on the severity of the injury and the overall health of the patient. If one suffers a shattered femur in a car accident, but can’t tolerate surgery at the moment, immobilization using traction may suffice until the overall condition of the patient improves.
2. Muscle, Ligament and Tendon Tears
Injury in the form of a muscle, ligament or tendon tear can feel just as painful as a fracture. Depending on the injured tissue, it may be even more complicated to repair. Tissue strains usually don’t require a trip to an orthopedist; however, tears might.
Things like the tendons in your knee and ankle are particularly painful when injured and detrimental to the overall quality of life. Tears may be treated with rest and immobilization, but usually not in the form of a hard cast; instead, other types of air casts and braces can be used. These are removable and allow for some flexing of the body part. It may be necessary, however, for surgical intervention to repair a tear. In recent years, this has been performed arthroscopically to avoid prolonged downtime and unsightly scars.
3. Joint Repair and Replacement
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Your joints are some of the most used and in some cases abused parts of the body. These connectors are filled with bones and tissue that are essential in making parts of your skeleton bend and move, including the knees, shoulders, and hips. These three joints are some of the body’s most significant and overworked.
The knee is the largest joint in the body and consists of three parts. Each of these three parts is subject to injury at a moment’s notice. A slip, trip or fall may result in a knee injury.
The hips are responsible for the movement of the lower body, and the ball-and-socket bone and tissue that connect the hips to the legs can wear out over time. A fall may cause damage to the hips, including dislocation and shattering.
Like the ball and socket of the hips, the rotator cuff connects the arm to the shoulder. It is responsible for the movement of the arms in any direction, including the 360-degree turning radius. The shoulder can sustain the injury with or without damaging the rotator cuff.
While these “big three” can be injured in the cases of trauma or sports activities, they also commonly wear out. As people age, so do the ligaments, tendons, and bones of the joints. These three joints are especially prone to arthritis, calcification deposits and breakage. A significant portion of an orthopedic surgeon’s practice is the treatment of these joints which may include total replacements.
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Final Thought About Orthopedic Surgeon Salary
Now that you have a general idea of the responsibilities of an orthopedist, you may be better able to decide on whether it is a field of medicine you would be interested in pursuing further. In a recent survey of medical professions, an overwhelming majority of orthopedists said they had great satisfaction and joy in their jobs. If that and the orthopedic surgeon salary appeals to you, it may very well be worth considering.