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Five Tips for Starting a Career in Orthopedics

Orthopedic students are under immense pressure to perform well in their studies, residencies and fellowship programs. High test scores and almost inhuman strength is required to work through intense years of preparation for a career in the medical field.

After completing all these prerequisites, students may wonder what comes next. How can budding practitioners jumpstart their careers and set themselves up for success?

What Is Orthopedics?

Orthopedics is the study of the human structural system, including bones, muscles, ligaments and tendons. Orthopedic doctors and surgeons handle dysfunction in these body systems, including cases like arthritis, ACL tears, spine issues and rotator cuff pain.

Becoming an orthopedic surgeon takes many years of preparation. However, this field is incredibly well-paid, vying with neuroscientists and dermatologists for top pay in the medical world. After completing med school, students complete a residency and fellowship before obtaining certification to work as orthopedists.

Orthopedic surgeons usually decide to specialize in a specific kind of service, such as pediatrics or sports orthopedics. Some subspecialize and focus on a single body part, like hands or the spine. The most complicated subspecialties are hand and tumor-focused.

Orthopedic surgeons can choose to work in the academic world or join a private practice. In academics, orthopedists perform surgeries and work with medical students as part of their education. Those who focus on private practice have a lot more say in their career, but they also experience the pressures of the business side of medicine.

Starting a career in orthopedics is an exciting step for recently certified medical students, but it comes with many challenges. Like most careers, a job in orthopedics is closely connected to a physician’s character, decision-making skills and quality of engagement with others. Here are five tips for starting a successful career in orthopedics.

1. Keep a Business Mindset

Every orthopedic surgeon should develop a business mindset to set their practice up for success, even in the academic arena. Although it may be tempting to take the first job that pays well, new orthopedic surgeons should plan for the long term with their career decisions.

Orthopedists should consider how their decisions today will affect them 10-15 years down the road. This is important when working in general or specialized orthopedics – usually, general positions do not shift into specialized jobs over time.

Dealing with medical contracts can be tricky, so it’s a good idea to hire a lawyer to help you make the best decision. Some agreements are restrictive, meaning that if orthopedists stopped working for a local group, they would have to move to continue practicing in their field.

Everything must be clearly laid out in writing, with no surprises or loopholes. A tight contract is especially important for ironing out compensation and understanding your role within the workplace.

2. Never Stop Learning

One of the most valuable steps a new orthopedist can take is to adopt a learning mindset. Orthopedic medicine moves quickly, as technological and medical innovations are developed each year. Orthopedists and other doctors should stay on top of new research so they can serve their patients to the best of their ability.

Research on highly successful orthopedists shows that they value personal growth and contribute heavily to orthopedic research. Their decisions to step into leadership roles were not driven primarily by a desire to make more money or move to a different location. In addition to caring for others, successful orthopedists also take excellent care of themselves physically.

Mentors in their field can be a wonderful source of support for new orthopedists. Education does not match years of experience, and working with a mentor brings many growth opportunities. Orthopedists should look for advisers with qualities they want to imitate, such as a strong moral character, good time management and excellent interpersonal skills.

Developing strong leadership and decision-making skills is another key to having a successful career as an orthopedist. Making the final call on surgeries and other serious health decisions is a skill that develops with time and practice. Orthopedists should weigh these decisions carefully to keep the respect of their community.

3. Invest in Your Community

Your success relies on whether others trust you with their medical problems. Your reputation is the lifeblood of your practice. Your co-workers and staff can be your best support or your worst enemy, depending on how you treat them.

Around half of new orthopedists change jobs within two years of starting their careers. If you can, it’s best to stay in the same location long term so you can build a strong community with patients and local medical practitioners. With that in mind, only consider job offers in places where you could see yourself staying a long time.

Connecting with other medical practitioners in the area is vital to your success as a young orthopedist. Reach out to colleagues and offer yourself as a supporting service. In addition to this initial connection, try to be as available as possible when you first start your practice. High availability makes it easy for doctors to refer patients to you and quickly benefit from your support.

Finally, the best way to invest in your community is by giving excellent care to patients. In addition to professional referrals, doctors also gain patients by word-of-mouth. Make yourself known as a trustworthy resource for people who are hurting, and then follow through. Your reputation will follow you when you move locations, so its value can’t be overemphasized.

4. Take Care of Yourself

Orthopedists are paid well in part because of their crazy hours. Like many other medical professionals, they are generally overworked, with little time to call their own. Although you may be eager to prove yourself when you first start out, you won’t be able to function at your best without taking time for self-care.

Remember that highly successful orthopedists prioritize their personal health. Having a fitness routine and consuming a balanced, nutritious diet will help you think more clearly, respond to stressful situations and manage your emotions. As orthopedists know, the human body is not a machine you can use perpetually without self-care and recharging.

Individuals who work long hours should ensure they’re not prioritizing work over their personal lives. Spend time with family and friends, block out time for vacation and practice good time-management skills to make the most of your life.

Orthopedists who are just starting may find it challenging to take time for self-care. Working as a doctor means a high level of responsibility – you can’t ever decide you’re too tired to show up to work. However, you can structure your days so time off is possible. It is unreasonable for doctors to push themselves 24/7 and not expect their work and personal health to suffer.

5. Build Authority With Humility

Orthopedists fresh out of a fellowship or residency are often anxious to prove themselves. They know a lot but don’t have much experience yet, and the tension of trying to find their place in the medical community can be overwhelming.

New orthopedists need to stay humble in the midst of change and this new life season. It’s OK not to know how to do everything and carefully make decisions about what job to take and which contract to sign. Asking for help is not a sign of weakness – it’s often a sign of wisdom.

A key component of an orthopedist’s success lies in their relationships with staff and other medical practitioners. Practicing humility and kindness is incredibly important for getting off on the right foot and setting the tone for your professional life. Good leaders can also recognize when they’ve made a mistake and aren’t too proud to confront the issue and apologize.

Authority and humility go hand in hand in doctor/patient relationships. Humility doesn’t mean a lack of trust in yourself but rather a degree of respect for others’ thoughts, emotions and opinions. Patients trust orthopedists who are humble much more than doctors who won’t listen to them and act like they know everything.

Launching Your Practice

Opening a career in orthopedics is exciting and terrifying at the same time. Fortunately, many supportive resources are available to help young orthopedists build their careers. Follow these five tips to launch a medical career that will continue to grow and benefit patients and fellow medical practitioners for many years.

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