Pre Med

Salary Series: High-Paying Medical Jobs In Sports

Sports medicine doctor treating a young women's knee injury

What do Teddy Bridgewater of the Miami Dolphins, Jacob DeGrom of the Texas Rangers, and Serena Williams all have in common? Each suffered career-threatening injuries from which they were able to bounce back and keep playing. In spite of these injuries, each continued having successful careers thanks to care they received from practitioners in the field of sports medicine. 

Many professional athletes today owe their careers to sports medicine specialists, such as surgeon Dr. James Andrews. Now retired, Dr. Andrews is considered a pioneer in the sports medicine industry. He is credited with saving the career of Drew Brees by operating on his shoulder. Brees went on to play 20 seasons for the New Orleans Saints. Mariano Rivera, a pitcher who played 19 seasons for the NY Yankees, has Andrews to thank for saving his shoulder as well. Rivera is now a Hall of Famer. Roger Clemens is another famous athlete whose career was saved by Dr. Andrews.

Injuries are a constant, whether in grade school, high school, college, and beyond. But, the level of sophistication in sports medicine now available is truly remarkable. It’s not surprising that this field is growing so rapidly. According to Grandview Research, this booming $15.2 billion industry is expected to grow at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 8.2% by 2029. The increasing participation in sports by kids, coupled with a shift from proactive to preventive care for sports injuries, is further expected to drive the market.

What is Sports Medicine?

This highly regarded specialty focuses on the treatment and prevention of injuries that result from exercise and sports activities; everything from football and baseball to tennis, track, soccer, and gymnastics. Sports medicine experts also treat injuries that can result from physically demanding jobs.

Sports medicine jobs typically include a doctor who serves as the team leader. This role is supported by people in a range of disciplines, such as physical therapists, physician assistants, certified athletic trainers, and registered dieticians. The mission is to get the patient back to physical fitness and full range of motion as quickly as possible.

Why is Sports Medicine Important?

Sports medicine is often the intermediary between a primary care physician and an orthopedic surgeon. Sometimes an injury does not require surgery, but will respond better to rehabilitation. A consultation with a sports medicine physician typically results in the best recommendation, based on the patient’s age, physical condition, and occupation.  

Sports medicine has become a vital part of our healthcare ecosystem. Over the last decade, there were more than 8.5 million sports- and recreation-related injuries in the U.S. alone, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). Although it is a relatively new medical specialty, sports medicine is vital to the wellbeing of athletes of all ages and makes an indispensable contribution to long-term injury recovery.

What are the Best High-Paying Medical Jobs for Those Who Love Sports?

Sports medicine careers include physicians, nurses, rehabilitation therapists, and others who work in the field and have a background in medicine, the musculoskeletal system, exercise science, and injury rehabilitation. Jobs vary from physician specialist to physician’s assistant, nurse, physical therapist, occupational therapist, and more. If you aspire to become an orthopedic surgeon or physician, for instance, it will take the most time, commitment, and investment.

Here’s a breakout of some of the highest paying STEM jobs and current median salaries for professionals in the sports medicine field:

Occupations Average Salary

Orthopedic surgeon $537,941

Sports medicine physician $258,192

Podiatrist $226,990

Orthopedic physician assistant $130,901

Physician Assistant $118,868

Occupational Therapist $98,326

Physical Therapist $91,733

How to Get a Job in Sports Medicine

Entry-level jobs in sports medicine require a bachelor’s degree, with a focus on health sciences. You should definitely include internships or summer jobs in the field to see where your interests and skills align with a job. 

For those who wish to become a sports medicine physician, you will need to think about pre-med while in college. Course requirements include subjects such as biology, chemistry, physics, and humanities. You will need to pass the MCAT exam to qualify for medical school. Although many universities don’t offer sports medicine degrees, many schools do offer sports medicine minors for those passionate about joining the field.

If you are still in high school, and think sports medicine is the future for you, many top U.S. universities offer pre-college online programs that allow you to see if this specialty is for you.

One excellent example is Wake Forest University’s Sports Medicine: An Inside Look at the Major Injuries & Treatments

Sports Medicine Career Outlook

There are three elements that determine career outlook in the field of sports medicine: the job title, degree, and type of industry—healthcare, sports training, or physical therapy, for example. 

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), athletic trainer jobs are predicted to grow by 19% between 2018 to 2028. This is a much higher projected growth rate than for all occupations in the United States.

A bachelor’s degree is sufficient for a career as an exercise physiologist, which has a medium annual salary of $49,170. This occupation is predicted to grow by 10% over the same time frame.

A doctoral or medicine degree is required for physical therapists and physicians, respectively. 

The BLS reports that sports team physicians have a medium annual salary of more than $200,000 and for physical therapists, it’s nearly $85,000.

Sports Medicine Career Paths

Sports medicine professionals have a wealth of career path choices. For many, being employed by a professional sports team is the answer to a dream. For others, sports medicine positions are available in hospitals, rehabilitation clinics, and private practices. Exercise therapists and trainers are often drawn to job opportunities at colleges, in fitness centers, and secondary schools.

Be advised that jobs in clinical settings require additional licensing or certifications. For occupational therapists who earn a master’s degree, they’ll need to seek licensure, which is possible by passing the National Board for Certification in Occupational Therapy exam.

States typically require athletic trainers to be licensed. To achieve this, you’ll need to take the Board of Certification for the Athletic Trainer exam. 

For aspiring physical therapists, to become professionally licensed, they must pass the National Physical Therapy Examination, while physicians must take the United States Medical Licensing Examination. It’s worth noting that many specialists in fields such as emergency medicine and internal medicine also hold this certification.

The Best Advice on How to Get Started with Your Career as a Sports Medicine Physician

The career options in sports medicine are many. For anyone with a passion for going pre-med in college,  and an embrace of the vast opportunities in the field of sports, this exciting career path is a natural choice. Plus, with so many subsets within the industry, there are many options from which to choose.

Recommended Articles

High School student learning about medicine with microscope

Pre Med

What High School Classes Will Prepare Me to Become a Doctor?

Read Article
High School Students collaborating

College Prep

What High School Extracurriculars Will Give Me Leadership Experience?

Read Article
*Kaplan may receive compensation upon student enrollment in one of our partner programs.*