What is an Orthopedic Surgeon?

An orthopedic surgeon is a medical doctor who specializes in the diagnosis, treatment, and surgical management of musculoskeletal conditions and injuries. These physicians focus on the prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of disorders affecting the bones, joints, muscles, ligaments, tendons, and nerves of the body. Orthopedic surgeons use a combination of surgical and non-surgical interventions to address a wide range of musculoskeletal problems, including fractures, arthritis, sports injuries, congenital deformities, and degenerative conditions.

Orthopedic surgeons help patients regain function, mobility, and quality of life by addressing musculoskeletal issues that impact their daily activities and overall well-being. They work closely with other healthcare professionals, such as physical therapists, occupational therapists, and primary care physicians, to develop comprehensive treatment plans tailored to each patient's specific needs and goals.

What does an Orthopedic Surgeon do?

An orthopedic surgeon performing surgery on a patient.

Duties and Responsibilities
The duties and responsibilities of an orthopedic surgeon can vary depending on their area of specialization, but some of the common tasks performed by orthopedic surgeons include:

  • Patient Evaluation and Diagnosis: Orthopedic surgeons assess patients with musculoskeletal complaints, such as bone fractures, joint pain, sports injuries, or congenital deformities. They conduct thorough physical examinations, review medical histories, and order diagnostic tests, such as X-rays, MRI scans, or blood tests, to accurately diagnose the underlying condition.
  • Treatment Planning: Based on their evaluation and diagnosis, orthopedic surgeons develop individualized treatment plans tailored to each patient's specific needs and goals. Treatment options may include non-surgical interventions, such as medication, physical therapy, or injections, as well as surgical procedures to repair, reconstruct, or replace damaged or diseased tissues or joints.
  • Surgical Interventions: Orthopedic surgeons perform a wide range of surgical procedures to treat musculoskeletal conditions and injuries. These may include fracture fixation, joint replacement surgery (e.g., hip replacement, knee replacement), arthroscopic surgery (minimally invasive joint surgery), soft tissue repairs (e.g., ligament reconstruction, tendon repair), and spinal surgery (e.g., decompression, fusion).
  • Postoperative Care: Following surgery, orthopedic surgeons provide comprehensive postoperative care to monitor patients' progress and ensure optimal recovery. This may involve managing pain, monitoring wound healing, prescribing rehabilitation exercises, and coordinating follow-up appointments to track recovery and address any complications.
  • Patient Education: Orthopedic surgeons educate patients about their musculoskeletal conditions, treatment options, and expected outcomes. They provide guidance on preventive measures, lifestyle modifications, and rehabilitation strategies to promote long-term musculoskeletal health and minimize the risk of recurrence or further injury.
  • Collaboration and Consultation: Orthopedic surgeons work collaboratively with other healthcare professionals, such as primary care physicians, physical therapists, radiologists, and anesthesiologists, to provide multidisciplinary care to patients. They may also consult with colleagues in related specialties, such as sports medicine, rheumatology, or neurosurgery, to ensure comprehensive evaluation and management of complex cases.
  • Research and Education: Many orthopedic surgeons are involved in clinical research, academic teaching, and professional education to advance the field of orthopedics. They contribute to scientific studies, publish research articles, and participate in conferences and continuing medical education programs to stay updated on the latest advancements and evidence-based practices in orthopedic surgery.

Types of Orthopedic Surgeons
Orthopedic surgery is a diverse field, and orthopedic surgeons may specialize in specific areas or subspecialties based on their training, interests, and expertise. Here are some types of orthopedic surgeons based on their subspecialties:

  • Foot and Ankle Surgeons: Foot and ankle orthopedic surgeons specialize in the diagnosis and treatment of conditions affecting the feet and ankles, including fractures, sprains, arthritis, and deformities such as bunions and hammertoes. They perform surgical procedures to correct deformities, stabilize fractures, and restore function to the foot and ankle joints.
  • Hand and Upper Extremity Surgeons: These orthopedic surgeons specialize in the diagnosis and treatment of conditions affecting the hands, wrists, arms, and shoulders. They perform surgical procedures to treat conditions such as carpal tunnel syndrome, trigger finger, tendon injuries, and fractures of the hand and upper extremities.
  • Joint Replacement Surgeons: These orthopedic surgeons specialize in the surgical management of arthritis and joint degeneration, particularly in the hip, knee, and shoulder joints. They perform total joint replacement surgeries to replace damaged or diseased joint surfaces with artificial implants, restoring function and reducing pain.
  • Pediatric Orthopedic Surgeons: Pediatric orthopedic surgeons focus on the diagnosis and treatment of musculoskeletal conditions and injuries in children and adolescents. They address a wide range of pediatric orthopedic issues, including congenital deformities, growth plate injuries, developmental disorders, and pediatric fractures.
  • Spine Surgeons: Spine surgeons specialize in the diagnosis and surgical management of spinal disorders and conditions affecting the neck (cervical spine), mid-back (thoracic spine), and lower back (lumbar spine). They perform spinal surgeries to treat conditions such as herniated discs, spinal stenosis, scoliosis, and spinal fractures.
  • Sports Medicine Surgeons: Sports medicine orthopedic surgeons focus on the diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of sports-related injuries and conditions. They have expertise in arthroscopic surgery techniques to repair ligaments, tendons, and cartilage injuries in athletes, as well as nonsurgical interventions to optimize athletic performance and prevent injuries.
  • Trauma Surgeons: Trauma orthopedic surgeons specialize in the treatment of acute musculoskeletal injuries resulting from trauma or accidents, such as fractures, dislocations, and soft tissue injuries. They provide emergent and reconstructive surgical interventions to restore function and stability to injured limbs and joints.

Are you suited to be an orthopedic surgeon?

Orthopedic surgeons have distinct personalities. They tend to be investigative individuals, which means they’re intellectual, introspective, and inquisitive. They are curious, methodical, rational, analytical, and logical. Some of them are also realistic, meaning they’re independent, stable, persistent, genuine, practical, and thrifty.

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What is the workplace of an Orthopedic Surgeon like?

The workplace of an orthopedic surgeon can vary depending on their practice setting and specialization. Many orthopedic surgeons work in hospitals, where they may be employed by medical centers, academic institutions, or large healthcare systems. In a hospital setting, orthopedic surgeons typically have access to advanced diagnostic equipment, surgical facilities, and specialized orthopedic units for the treatment of patients with musculoskeletal conditions and injuries.

Orthopedic surgeons may also work in private practice settings, either independently or as part of a group practice with other orthopedic specialists. In a private practice, orthopedic surgeons have their own clinics or offices where they see patients for consultations, examinations, and follow-up appointments. They may also perform surgical procedures in outpatient surgery centers or hospital-affiliated surgical suites, depending on the complexity of the procedure and patient needs.

In addition to clinical practice, many orthopedic surgeons are involved in academic medicine, teaching and training medical students, residents, and fellows in orthopedic surgery. They may hold faculty positions at medical schools or academic medical centers, where they participate in research, publish scholarly articles, and present at national conferences. Academic orthopedic surgeons often have access to research laboratories, educational resources, and collaborative opportunities with other healthcare professionals, contributing to advancements in the field of orthopedic surgery and the training of future generations of orthopedic surgeons.

Frequently Asked Questions

Doctor Specializations and Degrees

The following is a comprehensive list of the various specializations that a doctor can pursue and a brief summary of each specialization:

  • Allergist: An allergist specializes in the diagnosis and treatment of allergies, asthma, and related conditions. Allergists have specialized training in the recognition and management of allergic reactions.
  • Anesthesiologist: An anesthesiologist keeps a patient comfortable, safe and pain-free during surgery by administering local or general anesthetic.
  • Cardiologist: A cardiologist specializes in finding, treating, and preventing diseases that affect the heart, the arteries, and the veins.
  • Cardiothoracic Surgeon: A cardiothoracic surgeon specializes in surgical procedures inside the thorax (the chest), which may involve the heart, lungs, esophagus, and other organs in the chest. As well as performing surgery, they also diagnose and treat diseases of these organs.
  • Chiropractic Neurologist: A chiropractic neurologist is a specialized type of chiropractor who has undergone additional training in the field of neurology. They diagnose and treat conditions that affect the brain, spinal cord, and other parts of the nervous system.
  • Chiropractor: A chiropractor, or doctor of chiropractic medicine, specializes in diagnosing and treating disorders of the musculoskeletal and nervous system, especially in the spine. Treatment is usually physical manipulation of the joints and the spine to bring them back into alignment. A chiropractor does not perform surgery or prescribe medication.
  • Colorectal Surgeon: A colorectal surgeon specializes in diseases of the colon, rectum, and anus, as well as the entire gastric tract. These surgeons work closely with urologists, who handle the urogenital tract in males and the urinary tract of women, gynecologists, who deal with specific female issues, and gastroenterologists, who deal with diseases of the gut.
  • Doctor: An general overview of what a doctor does and how to become one.
  • Dentist: Dentists identify potential oral health issues such as gum disease, as well as examine patients, order medical tests and determine the correct diagnosis and treatment. They also perform oral surgery and remove teeth or address other dental health problems.
  • Dermatologist: A dermatologist specializes in the prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of conditions affecting skin, hair, sweat and oil glands, nails, and mucus membranes (inside the mouth, nose, and eyelids) which can include cancer.
  • Emergency Medicine Physician: An emergency medicine physician works in emergency departments, hospitals, and urgent care clinics, and is often the first medical professional that patients see when they are in need of urgent medical care.
  • Endocrinologist: An endocrinologist specializes in diagnosing conditions and diseases related to the glands and hormones. While primary care doctors know a lot about the human body, for conditions and diseases directly related to glands and hormones they will typically send a patient to an endocrinologist.
  • Family Practitioner: A family practitioner specializes in caring for the entire family. Patients can be children, adults, and the elderly, and are treated for a wide array of medical issues.
  • Forensic Pathologist: A forensic pathologist investigates the cause of sudden and unexpected deaths, and is able to determine how a person died by performing an autopsy and studying tissue and laboratory results. These doctors are often called upon to provide evidence in court regarding the cause and time of such deaths.
  • Gastroenterologist: A gastroenterologist has specific training in diagnosing and treating conditions and diseases of the gastrointestinal (GI) tract. This may include diseases and disorders that affect the the biliary system (liver, pancreas, gallbladder, and bile ducts), as well as the esophagus, stomach, small intestine, and large intestine (colon).
  • Geriatrician: A geriatrician specializes in the care of elderly patients, and often works with patients who have multiple chronic conditions, such as hypertension, diabetes, and heart disease, as well as age-related cognitive and functional impairments.
  • Gynecologist: A gynecologist specializes in women's reproductive systems. Gynecologists are also sometimes certified as obstetricians, and will monitor the health of the mother and the fetus during a pregnancy.
  • Hematologist: A doctor who specializes in the diagnosis and treatment of blood disorders, such as anemia and leukemia.
  • Hospitalist: A hospitalist is a physician whose focus is the general medical care of hospitalized patients. Their duties include patient care, teaching, research, and leadership related to hospital medicine.
  • Immunologist: An immunologist specializes in managing problems related to the immune system, such as allergies and autoimmune diseases. A smaller number of immunologists are strictly researchers seeking to better understand how the immune system works and to help develop better ways of diagnosing and providing treatment for many immunological conditions.
  • Infectious Disease Specialist: A doctor who specializes in the diagnosis and treatment of infectious diseases, such as HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, and hepatitis.
  • Internist: An internist is a 'doctor of internal medicine' who can diagnose, treat, and practice compassionate care for adults across the spectrum, from health to complex illness. They are not to be mistaken with "interns," who are doctors in their first year of residency training.
  • Medical Examiner: Medical examiners are responsible for performing autopsies and collecting evidence related to the circumstances of a death, including medical history, physical examination findings, and toxicology tests.
  • Naturopathic Physician: A naturopathic physician blends modern scientific medical practice and knowledge with natural and traditional forms of medical treatment. The goal is to treat the underlying causes of disease while stimulating the body's own healing abilities.
  • Nephrologist: A doctor who specializes in the diagnosis and treatment of kidney diseases. They treat conditions such as chronic kidney disease, acute kidney injury, kidney stones, hypertension, and electrolyte imbalances.
  • Neurologist: A neurologist specializes in treating diseases that affect the human nervous system. It is a very prestigious and difficult medical specialty due to the complexity of the nervous system, which consists of the brain, the spinal cord and the peripheral nerves.
  • Neurosurgeon: A neurosurgeon specializes in the diagnosis and surgical treatment of disorders of the central and peripheral nervous system. This includes congenital anomalies, trauma, tumours, vascular disorders, infections of the brain or spine, stroke, or degenerative diseases of the spine.
  • Obstetrician: An obstetrician is a medical doctor who specializes in caring for women during pregnancy, childbirth, and the postpartum period.
  • Occupational Physician: Occupational medicine is focused on keeping individuals well at work, both mentally and physically. As workplaces become more complex, occupational physicians play an important role in advising people on how their work can affect their health.
  • Oncologist: An oncologist specializes in the diagnosis and treatment of cancer. The three primary types of oncologists are: medical oncologists that specialize in the administration of drugs to kill cancer cells; surgical oncologists that perform surgical procedures to identify and remove cancerous tumors; and radiation oncologists that treat cancer with radiation therapy.
  • Ophthalmologist: An ophthalmologist is a specialist that deals specifically with the structure, function, diseases, and treatment of the eye. Due to the complexities and the importance of the eye as a special sense that provides vision, the discipline of ophthalmology is dedicated solely to this organ.
  • Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeon: An oral and maxillofacial surgeon treats dental and medical problems involving the oral cavity and the maxillofacial area. The maxillofacial area includes the bones of the forehead, face, cheekbones and the soft tissues. Treatment often involves performing surgery and related procedures to treat diseases, defects, or injuries, and to improve function or appearance.
  • Orthodontist: An orthodontist specializes in how the jaws and teeth are aligned. They help people whose teeth are misaligned or require some kind of correction – those with an improper bite, or malocclusion.
  • Orthopedic Surgeon / Orthopedist: An orthopaedic surgeon (or orthopedist) examines, diagnoses, and treats diseases and injuries of the musculoskeletal system. This system includes the bones, joints, ligaments, muscles, tendons, and nerves.
  • Osteopath: Osteopaths have attended and graduated from an osteopathic medical school and practise the system of healthcare known as osteopathy. They consider all aspects of the patient, not just the symptoms they exhibit. They see the integrated nature of the body’s organ systems and its capacity for self-regulation and self-healing.
  • Otolaryngologist: Otolaryngologists (or ENT physicians) are specialists trained in the diagnosis and treatment of patients with diseases and disorders of the ear, nose, throat (ENT), and related structures of the head and neck. These specialists are trained in both medicine and surgery.
  • Pathologist: A pathologist studies the causes, nature, and effects of disease. The field of pathology is broad with concentrations on changes in cells, tissues, and organs that are the result of a disease.
  • Pediatrician: A pediatrician specializes in providing medical care to infants, children and teenagers by administering treatments, therapies, medications and vaccinations to treat illness, disorders or injuries.
  • Periodontist: A periodontist is a dentist who specializes in oral inflammation, and who knows how to prevent, diagnose, and treat periodontal disease.
  • Plastic Surgeon: A plastic surgeon specializes in reshaping healthy body parts for aesthetic reasons, and also in repairing or replacing body parts damaged by accidents, illness or malformation.
  • Podiatrist: A podiatrist practices podiatric medicine, which is a branch of science devoted to the diagnosis, treatment and study of medical disorders of the foot, ankle, lower leg and lower back. In the U.S. and Canada, podiatry is practiced as a specialty.
  • Prosthodontist: A prosthodontist specializes in restoring the look, function, comfort, and health of a patient's oral cavity with artificial materials. These artificial materials are made up of a wide variety of restorations that include fillings, dentures, veneers, crowns, bridges and oral implants.
  • Psychiatrist: Psychiatrists are physicians who evaluate, diagnose and treat patients who are affected by a temporary or chronic mental health problem.
  • Pulmonologist: A pulmonologist specializes in the diagnosis and treatment of pulmonary (lung) conditions and diseases of the chest, particularly pneumonia, asthma, tuberculosis, emphysema, and complicated chest infections.
  • Radiologist: A radiologist is a specialist in interpreting medical images that may be obtained with x-rays, (CT scans or radiographs), nuclear medicine (involving radioactive substances, magnetism (MRI), or ultrasound.
  • Rheumatologist: A doctor who specializes in the diagnosis and treatment of rheumatic diseases, such as rheumatoid arthritis and lupus.
  • Sports Medicine Physician: A sports medicine physician specializes in taking care of people who have sports injuries that may be acquired from playing sports, exercising, or from otherwise being physically active.
  • Surgeon: A surgeon performs surgery for the purpose of removing diseased tissue or organs, to repair body systems, or to replace diseased organs with transplants.
  • Telemedicine Physician: A telemedicine physician provides remote healthcare services to patients using telecommunications technology, facilitating virtual consultations, diagnoses, and treatment recommendations.
  • Urologist: A urologist specializes in the treatment of the male and female urinary tract and the male reproductive organs. Urologists can treat the kidneys, urinary bladder, urethra, uterus, and male reproductive organs. There are also specific specialty areas that urologists may choose to focus on, such as pediatric urology, male infertility, and urologic oncology.
  • Vascular Medicine Specialist - A vascular medicine specialist specializes in the diagnosis and nonsurgical treatment of conditions affecting the blood vessels. They may work with patients who have conditions such as deep vein thrombosis, peripheral artery disease, or pulmonary embolism.
  • Vascular Surgeon - A vascular surgeon specializes in the diagnosis and surgical treatment of conditions affecting the blood vessels, including aneurysms, peripheral artery disease, and varicose veins.
  • Veterinary Dentist - A veterinary dentist is a specialized veterinarian who focuses on the diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of dental diseases and conditions in animals. They perform dental procedures such as cleanings, extractions, and oral surgeries to improve the oral health and well-being of pets and other animals.


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Doctor Allergist Anesthesiologist Cardiologist Cardiothoracic Surgeon Chiropractor Colorectal Surgeon Dentist Dermatologist Emergency Medicine Physician Endocrinologist Family Practitioner Forensic Pathologist Gastroenterologist Geriatrician Gynecologist Hematologist Hospitalist Immunologist Infectious Disease Specialist Internist Medical Examiner Naturopathic Physician Nephrologist Neurologist Neurosurgeon Obstetrician Occupational Physician Oncologist Ophthalmologist Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeon Orthopedist Orthodontist Osteopath Otolaryngologist Pathologist Pediatrician Periodontist Plastic Surgeon Podiatrist Prosthodontist Psychiatrist Pulmonologist Radiologist Rheumatologist Sports Medicine Physician Surgeon Urologist Vascular Medicine Specialist Vascular Surgeon Chiropractic Neurologist Veterinary Dentist Telemedicine Physician

Orthopedist vs Orthopedic Surgeon

The terms "orthopedist" and "orthopedic surgeon" are often used interchangeably to refer to medical doctors who specialize in the diagnosis, treatment, and surgical management of musculoskeletal conditions and injuries. However, there can be a subtle distinction between the two terms:

An "orthopedist" is a broad term used to describe any physician who practices in the field of orthopedics, regardless of whether they perform surgical procedures. Orthopedists may include medical doctors (MDs) or doctors of osteopathic medicine (DOs) who specialize in orthopedic medicine and provide non-surgical interventions such as medication, physical therapy, injections, and orthotic devices to manage musculoskeletal conditions.

On the other hand, an "orthopedic surgeon" specifically refers to a medical doctor who has completed specialized training in orthopedic surgery and is qualified to perform surgical procedures to treat musculoskeletal conditions and injuries. While all orthopedic surgeons are orthopedists, not all orthopedists are surgeons. Orthopedic surgeons undergo additional training beyond medical school and residency to develop expertise in surgical techniques for repairing fractures, replacing joints, reconstructing ligaments, and addressing other complex orthopedic problems.

In summary, while both orthopedists and orthopedic surgeons are medical doctors who specialize in the field of orthopedics, the term "orthopedist" may encompass a broader range of practitioners who provide non-surgical care, while "orthopedic surgeon" specifically denotes a physician who performs surgical interventions to treat musculoskeletal conditions.

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Orthopedic Surgeons are also known as:
Orthopaedic Surgeon