An orthopedic surgeon concentrates in surgery, related to the medical discipline of orthopedics, and will operate on injuries to bones, joints etc. There are general orthopedic surgeons and also those who have trained to work on a particular area of the body, such as the spine. The surgeon may also decide to concentrate on one specific patient group, i.e. pediatrics.
Work Schedule and Duties of an Orthopedic Surgeon
Orthopedic surgeons generally spend most of their working time in the operating room performing surgeries. They will deal with both minor and major surgery, minor surgery could see them casting a broken bone and major surgery may be more time consuming such as fixing severe injuries of shattered bones. In addition to this, orthopedic surgeons will probably spend a day a week in the office for consultations and post operative follow up visits with patients. On average an orthopedic surgeon will work five days in every working week, they will take 4 – 6 weeks off for vacation a year and also have to spend 2 weeks continuing their medical education which is a yearly requirement.
Orthopedic surgeons will also be expected to be on call during some nights and weekends. If the hospital with which they are affiliated do a lot or specialize in orthopedic surgery then there may be a high level of demand for on – call duties. If there are many surgeons in the area then this will be shared and more manageable. The hours can be exhausting, but the reward of helping people and the money you make doing it can be well worth the inconvenience.
How to Become an Orthopedic Surgeon
Orthopedic Surgeons will dedicate approximately 40,000 hours training and over $300,000 on their education.
Becoming a recognized qualified surgeon takes a very long time, on average a surgeon will spend the equivalent of 20 years of full-time work just learning how.
They will need to begin by earning a bachelor’s degree. This requires full time attendance at college, which on average equates to the minimum four years or 6,400 hours of work. Medical school entry is extremely competitive so for the individual wishing to become a surgeon, it is more likely that they will spend far more than the 40 hours studying and they will also spend time researching and volunteering.
Once they have completed college and gained their degree those wanting to become an orthopedic surgeon have to attend medical school. This will see the student spending about 80 hours per week for 48 weeks each year studying and training for four years.
After medical school, surgeons must then complete post-graduate training/residency. To practice medicine in the United States surgeons need to pass the United States Medical Licensing Exam (USMLE©) and complete at least the first year of residency, which is known as internship.
Residents work long hours, including all days of the week, nights and holidays and will exceed the legal working hour’s limit which is currently 80 hours per week for 50 weeks a year. In order to become board certified he or she must pass both a written and oral examinations administered by the American Board of Orthopaedic Surgeons.
Salary and Compensation for Orthopedic Surgeons
Depending on the type of orthopedic surgery, orthopedic surgeons can earn in excess of $700,000 a year. The average annual income for a general orthopedic surgeon is $514,659, according to the MGMA 2011 Physician Compensation report; these figures are based on 2010 income, which is the most recent data currently available.
However becoming a surgeon is grueling and expensive. In the 2009-2010 academic calendar, the average student budget was $19,338 (public) and $39,028 (private), respectively. Attendance at an averagely priced institution coupled with subsidies in the form of student loans means that a trainee surgeon will amount $100,000 debt from their four year college training. This figure is not inclusive of living expenses, training materials, exam costs or interview expenses. A more realistic budget for a trainee surgeon would be $45,000 per year; $30,000 for tuition and $15,000 for living expenses. Therefore attendance at a medical school with a subsidized loan to cover a third of the tuition fees for the 4 years it takes to graduate at an APR 7% will see a graduate surgeon already owing $200,527 of debt.
Under U.S tax code allowances the trainee surgeon can deduct the maximum of $2,500 annually of the interest payments they make to the lender for their student loan. Whilst in residency, if they pay off the interest that is accruing, the debt will be $300,527 when their residency ends. Then there are the additional costs of about $63,000 for a 3 year residency and whilst paying off the interest is an ideal situation, finding the payments from a net pay of $40,000 per year will be difficult.
When you take the time that surgeons spend training and the amount of student debt accrued the salary of a surgeon can be rather deceiving. For example a board certified internal medicine surgeon married with a family residing in California, earning the average internist annual salary of $205,441 will have $140,939 left after income taxes and $106,571 after their student loan payments are made. These figures are based on federal income tax rate at 28%, Californian state income tax 6.6%, Social Security tax 6.2% and Medicare tax 1.45%. In order to pay the debt of $369,425 over 20 years with a 7% APR means making payments of $34,368 a year. Therefore their student loan payments will continue to take up about $35,000 of their net income for 20 years. Their initial student loan debt ends up costing $687,360. Meaning that they will end up paying back a quarter of their net salary for 20 years; a debt that was only accrued because they chose to become a physician.
While it may appear that orthopedic surgeons are earning a vast salary when you actually look at the mechanics behind the qualifications and time that they have spent training it maybe that they should be better rewarded that they are. At the end of the day all the surgeon wants is to be appreciated and fairly compensated for their time and financial sacrifice, not to make vast amounts of profit from their patients.
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