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The path to becoming a team physician is not easy in most places: candidates must earn a medical degree, specialize in sports medicine or sports-related injuries, and often have years of honed experience. Specific requirements vary by team, of course, but it is not always possible to become a team physician straight out of medical school. Most teams recruit established doctors who will be able to lend expertise and provide top-of-the-line treatment to players.
Just the same, there are certain steps that you can take to increase your chances of success in the field. Particularly for professional sports teams, your credentials and pedigree will be very important. The better your medical school, the more likely your resume is to stand out.
It is usually a lot easier to become a team physician for a local or high school team than it is to become a team physician for a professional sports organization. Many smaller-scale organizations are open to hiring doctors with a passion for sports injury, even if they do not have a lot of experience. If you are simply hoping to help athletes without the prestige of working for a nationally or internationally recognized team, look into local or smaller-scale opportunities. Work with small teams does not usually work as a stepping stone to working with larger teams, though it can in some circumstances.
No matter your aspirations, your medical training is important. Focus your energy in medical school on orthopedics, sports medicine, and injury rehabilitation. When you eventually become a team physician, you will be responsible for a range of patient ailments. Many will be bone and muscle-related, which is where orthopedics comes in. Broad courses in sports medicine will teach you how to deal with a variety of other player ailments. There are no fixed team physician requirements, but a diverse education is always considered an asset.
Surgery is usually a solid background for a team physician career. Although you are unlikely to actually be performing surgery once you become a team physician, having the detailed and precise knowledge of a surgeon will help you in your career. Many of the world’s top team doctors have surgical backgrounds. This both adds to their prestige, and helps them do their jobs.
Whatever your field of specialty, you will usually need to establish your professional reputation before you begin looking for team physician jobs. Doctors with successful sports medicine practices are usually highly desirable to teams. In most cases, team physicians do much more than simply helping players. They also add to the caliber of the team and often serve as a face for the players' health in press releases, news reports, and press conferences.
Doctors with experience in sports medicine who hope to become team physicians often join professional organizations as a way of networking with hiring managers and team representatives. Most medical boards and licensing bodies have societies or divisions for specific branches of medicine, including sports injury and rehabilitation. These groups host conferences and educational seminars, as well as networking opportunities for members. Joining a sports-centered group is a great way to start getting connected with the profession, particularly when you are first starting out.