Orthopedic surgeons are doctors that specialize in treating conditions of the musculoskeletal system, including the bones, joints, muscles, ligaments, tendons, nerves, and skin. Generally, orthopedic surgeons work on all aspects of medical conditions that affect the patient's ability to move, either as the result of congenital defects (those present at birth) or as a result of new trauma.
Currently, there are about 28,000 orthopedic surgeons in the United States.
Completing medical school is the first step to becoming a doctor. Students need to graduate with either a Doctor of Medicine (M.D.) or a Doctor of Osteopathy (D.O.) degree to begin specialty training in orthopedics.
After graduating medical school, doctors who want to become orthopedic surgeons will complete 5 years of a residency program. Typically the first year of residency will be spent in general surgery and the next four years will focus specifically on orthopedic surgery.
Orthopedic surgeons can complete additional years of study in subspecialty areas like:
- Joint reconstruction and hip preservation
- Foot and ankle
- Musculoskeletal oncology
- Hand and upper extremity
- Pediatric orthopedics
- Spine service
- Sports medicine
Doctors must have a medical license to practice medicine in any state. States individually control medical licenses, so requirements will vary across the country. A doctor with a medical license can practice any type of medicine, but the license does not establish knowledge in any one particular area of medicine.
Orthopedic surgeons earn board certification through the American Board of Orthopedic Surgery. To gain certification, orthopedic surgeons must meet certain professional requirements and pass an extensive test. Orthopedic surgeons maintain certification through continued learning educational classes, by maintaining professional standards, and eventually by retaking the certifying examination.
Where Orthopedic Surgeons Work
Orthopedic surgeons usually work in hospitals and outpatient surgical centers. They may also work in private or group practices. Some orthopedic surgeons teach in university settings.
How They Help People
Orthopedic surgeons diagnose, treat, prevent, and correct a wide range of conditions of the musculoskeletal system. Injuries to the musculoskeletal system are the leading cause for visits to the doctor; more than 28 million people suffer musculoskeletal injuries each year.
Orthopedic surgeons provide routine care for chronic conditions, and also work in emergency settings for patients who have suffered trauma to their musculoskeletal system. These surgeons treat conditions including:
- Lower back pain
- Muscular dystrophy
- Tendon injuries
- Pulled muscles
- Carpal tunnel
- Torn ligaments
- Knee replacement
- Arthritis and Osteoporosis
- Growth abnormalities
Orthopedic surgeons will spend most of their time providing interventional treatments, and may refer patients to orthopedists to provide other forms of treatment like physical therapy. Orthopedists also complete residency programs in orthopedics but they do not have specialty training in surgery. These doctors spend most of their time providing treatments to restore function to the musculoskeletal system after injury or disease.
When orthopedic surgeons see patients, they will perform a full physical examination and will discuss the patient's medical history. Orthopedic surgeons will perform a variety of diagnostic tests including blood tests, bone scans and other imaging tests, flexibility tests, muscle tests, and bone density tests. The doctors will analyze the results of these tests, make a diagnosis, and create a treatment plan for the patient. Orthopedic surgeons provide a wide variety of treatments depending on the doctor's subspecialty.
Orthopedic surgeons also provide follow-up care to their patients, and check in with patients after surgery and provide continual care for more serious or chronic conditions. These doctors may need to schedule multiple follow-up visits to make sure bones are setting and healing properly.
Medical Negligence and Orthopedic Surgeons
Orthopedic doctors rank third on the list of doctors most commonly sued in malpractice cases. According to a 2015 Medscape report, an incredible 79% of all orthopedic doctors are named in a malpractice case at some point in their career.
By far the most common cause of a malpractice case in orthopedics is a surgical mistake. This includes improperly performing a surgical procedure, damaging surrounding anatomy during a surgical procedure, using a malfunctioning piece of surgical equipment, or performing surgery on the wrong site.
Orthopedic surgery can cause major trauma to the body through surgeries like knee and hip replacements, so it is important that orthopedic surgeons follow the post-operative care of their patients and discuss rehabilitation and any continued treatment needed. Orthopedic surgeons also need to be aware of and treat any complications that occur during or after surgery.
It is important for patients to visit the right orthopedic specialist for their medical condition. When these surgeons cannot provide the necessary treatment, orthopedic surgeons will refer their patients to doctors with other specialties.
Orthopedic surgeons work as one part of a care team for their patients, and they must be able to properly document their treatment and communicate the details of their care to the patient's other doctors.
Experienced Maryland Medical Malpractice Attorneys
Doctors cannot guarantee a positive outcome to their treatment, but they should be able to guarantee that they provided the best treatment to their patients. If you or a loved one has suffered an injury while under the care of an orthopedic surgeon, you may be eligible for compensation.
The attorneys at Gilman & Bedigian have a track record of success in gaining compensation for victims of malpractice across Maryland. Call our offices today to schedule a free consultation and to speak with a malpractice attorney.