The field of sports medicine teaches individuals specialized knowledge of the human body and its physical abilities. Students in a sports medicine program take classes in the areas of kinesiology, anatomy, physiology, nutrition, biology, and other related subjects. They learn how the body deals with and reacts to different physical conditions. Individuals who earn an associate degree in this field are equipped with the knowledge and skills helpful for entering careers as personal or group fitness trainer. At the bachelor's degree level, sports medicine graduates can find work as athletic trainers, nutritionists, and physical therapy assistants. After earning a master's degree, graduates can look for advanced leadership positions within the field, and they can also go into research and teaching. In order to become a practicing sports medicine physician, an individual needs to obtain a degree as a medical doctor.
Associate degrees in sports medicine are offered through some community colleges. Students must generally commit two years to earning an associate degree although, on a part-time basis, it can take three or more years. Every college varies somewhat in the classes it requires and any additional requirements it puts in place to earn an associate degree. In order to apply to an associate degree program in sports medicine, students must have high school or GED diplomas. Tuition for these programs varies, but typically an associate degree can be completed through a community college for less than $10,000 a year.
Students in these programs usually must take general course requirements. At most schools, this includes classes in math and English composition. Other courses that students must take to earn an associate degree in sports medicine may include kinesiology, physiology and nutrition. Kinesiology and physiology help students understand the human body so that they are aware of how various exercises affect muscle groups, joints, and bone health. Nutrition classes introduce students to the fundamentals of food groups, vitamins and other nutrients. CPR classes are not uncommon, and some programs assist students in earning their CPR certification, which is essential for those who hope to become certified personal trainers.
A bachelor's degree in sports medicine typically requires four years of full-time study. In order to be admitted to a university or college that offers a four-year degree in sports medicine, prospective students typically need high school transcripts, faculty recommendations, a resume, and a personal essay; exact requirements vary based on the school. Many students transfer into bachelor's degree programs after completing an associate degree in a related discipline, like fitness or personal training. Tuition for a bachelor's degree program in sports medicine varies greatly based on the school.
Bachelor's level sports medicine students take general courses in science, including biology, kinesiology, anatomy, and physiology. In addition to general core science courses, sports medicine students must fulfill their schools' requirements for all undergraduates – which may include courses in math, science, composition, foreign language, and humanities. Sports medicine students also take specialized courses in their major including sports medicine principles and injury evaluation and rehabilitation. These courses enable them to work with injured athletes safely and effectively.
A sports medicine master’s degree requires approximately two years of full-time study, though there are plenty of part-time options that require three or more years of school. Master’s degree level sports medicine students are required to study the fundamentals of kinesiology, physiology and sports injury treatment and evaluation. They also study physical therapy and rehabilitation, and proper fitness training fundamentals. Essentially, these are most of the same classes required for a bachelor's degree in sports medicine, but studied on a more in depth level.
Students interested in earning a master’s degree must complete a bachelor's degree first, though this does not necessarily have to be in sports medicine. It is helpful if the degree is in a related area, such as physiology, anatomy, or physical therapy, as these disciplines all help graduate students succeed in their chosen program.
In addition to completing their coursework, students who are seeking a master’s of sports medicine degree may write an original research thesis on a topic of interest to them. Students dedicate at least one semester to the research and writing of their thesis, though many students spend at least an entire year on their thesis.
Medical Degrees: Becoming a Sports Medicine Physician
For those interested in pursuing careers as sports medicine physicians, they must first complete a four-year pre-med bachelor’s degree at an accredited four-year university. This degree should be in sports medicine, kinesiology, exercise science, or related. This degree needs to be obtained from an accredited university, online or on-campus. Applicants to medical school must also take and pass the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT). The MCAT is a standardized, multiple-choice exam. MCAT scores are a competitive factor in medical school admissions.
After being accepted to medical school, prospective sports medicine physicians must obtain either a doctor of medicine (MD) or a doctor of osteopathic medicine (DO) degree. Both MDs and DOs require four years of medical school. Holders of MDs and DOs have the equal rights and privileges of practice and complete the same programs of residency and fellowship.
New physicians must complete either a three- or five-year residency before continuing on to a two-year fellowship. Becoming a primary care physician requires three years of residency in family medicine and other practices. Orthopedic surgeons must complete five years of surgical training. Those choosing the primary care track must continue on to complete another two years of fellowship training, working alongside doctors to learn the causes and treatments of sports-related injuries. Once the fellowship is complete, prospective physicians must apply for a state medical license. Each state has its own licensing program.
Accreditation is the process of an independent, outside organization evaluating a school or program to see if it meets certain educational standards. All students should seek to earn a degree from a school that has achieved regional accreditation, which means that the school as a whole has met standards in such areas as curriculum, faculty, and facilities, which were set by a regionally-based accreditation agency. There are also program-specific accreditation processes for different types of programs. There is no accrediting body that specifically looks at sports medicine programs. That being said, the Commission on Accreditation of Athletic Training Education (CAATE) accredits programs related to athletic training, including exercise science and physical education programs. Students who know that they want to pursue a career in athletic training should look for a CAATE-accredited program.
Sports medicine is a diverse field for individuals who are passionate about athletics, physical performance, and physical fitness for people from all walks of life. As with any occupation, it is important to maintain a standard for all sports medicine practitioners, whether they be physicians or athletic trainers. Certification is a crucial process when becoming a qualified sports medicine practitioner-- it ensures the public that the professional is skilled at their job, and it prevents those who are not from assuming a false title.
There are many different certificates that can be earned, depending on one's specific career interests. Certification may or may not be required by an employer or the state, depending on the field and where an individual wants to work. However, earning a certification can help a job candidate stand out, as it shows that they are dedicated to the profession and that have a high level of knowledge of their field. Professional certificates that can be earned include Certified Personal Trainer, Certified Health Fitness Specialist, Clinical Exercise Specialist, and Clinical Exercise Physiologist. There are a variety of accredited certifying agencies, such as The American College of Sports Medicine, American Council on Exercise, and The National Academy of Sports Medicine.
Other Sports Medicine Specialties
- Physical Therapist: Physical therapists use a variety of methods to help patients deal with different physical issues. These practitioners use techniques such as manipulation, traction, massage, application of hot or cold compresses, and exercise to assist in their patient's recovery. Physical therapists offer services to those in chronic pain or immobilized from injury or disease.
- Nurse: Nurses are an integral part of disease prevention, health promotion, and recovery from illness. Nurses may practice independently or as a member of a health care team. This field has a wide variety of nursing certification and degrees which range from entry-level to doctoral-level.
- Orthopedic Surgeon: Orthopaedics is a branch of surgery concerned with problems in the musculoskeletal system. Using both surgical and nonsurgical procedures (like braces), orthopedics treat skeletal trauma, sports injuries, and other disorders.
- Kinesiotherapist: A kinesiotherapist designs and monitors rehabilitation programs for diseased or injured patients seeking to regain muscle strength and function. These professionals know not only anatomy but the physiology of the human body as a whole. Kinesiotherapists must choose the right exercises for strength building while not causing further damage the patient. They use coordinated therapies that involve motivation and goals to help their patients improve faster.
- Exercise Physiologist: Exercise physiologists administer exercise tests, design individualized exercises, and customize exercise programs for athletes, those with chronic diseases, or people who are just interested in sports. Unlike a “personal trainer,” physiologists are certified by the American Society of Exercise Physiologists. Often doctors refer patients with chronic diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, or lung disease to see an exercise physiologist.