How to Become a Sports Medicine Physician

How to Become a Sports Medicine Physician

The academic requirements for a Primary Care Sports Medicine Specialist are somewhat unusual in that there is no specific primary board certification for this specialty.

It is a recognized subspecialty, but you must complete three year residency in a recognized specialty first, like: family medicine, emergency medicine, internal medicine, or pediatrics.

After your residency, you can pursue a fellowship in sports medicine. The specialist must then pass an exam granting a Sports Medicine Certification of Added Qualification (CAQ), which is accepted as the equivalent of Board Certification in the field.

Traumatic injury treatment, exercise physiology, nutrition, cardiology, emergency treatment, and rehabilitation techniques are all areas the specialist must study and master.

Ongoing supplemental coursework is required to maintain CAQ certification. Here are the steps you need to complete:

1. Get a Bachelor's Degree (4 Years)

To become a sports medicine physician, you must first earn your bachelor's degree. It is wise to pick a pre-med program for your undergrad so you get the necessary prerequisites for medical school.

It's important you get a strong background in Chemistry, Biology, Physics, and Anatomy, as you are studying to become a physician.

You can expect coursework similar to the following:

Grade Level Example Courses
  • General Chemistry I & Lab
  • General Chemistry II & Lab
  • Biology & Lab
  • Calculus I
  • Physics I & Lab
  • Physics II & Lab
  • Humanities Requirements
  • Electives
  • Organic Chemistry I & Lab
  • Organic Chemistry II & Lab
  • Fundamentals of Microbiology & Lab
  • Genetics
  • Physiology
  • Humanities Requirements
  • Electives
  • Cell Structure & Function
  • General Virology & Lab
  • Microbial Genetics & Lab
  • Biochemistry I
  • Biochemistry II
  • Physics
  • Humanities Requirements
  • Electives
  • Upper Level Biology
  • Upper Level Chemistry
  • Upper Level Physics
  • Upper Level Psychology
  • Upper Level Kinesiology
  • Remaining Requirements & Electives

2. Take the Medical College Admissions Test (MCAT)

To be admitted into medical school, candidates must first take the MCAT, or Medical College Admission Test, a 7.5 hour, standardized, multiple choice exam used to assess the applicant's knowledge of science, reasoning, communication, and writing skills.

The MCAT is divided into four sections: 

Section Section Breakdown
Biological & Biochemical Foundations of Living Systems
  • 59 multiple-choice questions
  • 95 minutes
  • Tests biology, organic chemistry, inorganic chemistry, and biochemistry
Chemical & Physical Foundations of Biological Systems
  • 59 multiple-choice questions
  • 95 minutes
  • Tests biochemistry, biology, general chemistry, organic chemistry, and physics
Psychological, Social, & Biological Foundations of Behavior
  • 59 multiple-choice questions
  • 95 minutes
  • Tests introductory psychology, sociology, and biology
Critical Analysis & Reasoning Skills
  • 52 multiple-choice questions
  • 90 minutes
  • Tess reading comprehension, humanities, and social sciences

You can find study materials, MCAT registration, and your test scores on the MCAT website. If you are unsatisfied with your score on any of the aforementioned exams, you are free to retake them. Depending on the school, some will average your scores and others will simply take your most recent.

3. Complete a MD or DO Program

You have two program choices in medical school to become a sports medicine poctor: a Doctor of Medicine (MD) program or a Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine (DO) program.

Each degree focuses on the same methods of treatment, but a DO degree also focuses on osteopathic manipulative medicine. Whichever path you choose, you are facing 4-5 years in medical school.

Your program will focus on the following:

  • Basic pathology
  • Anatomy
  • Biology
  • Biochemistry
  • Psychology
  • Physiology
  • Medical ethics
  • Pharmacology 

In the second half of the program, you will work with doctors and other healthcare professionals to advance your skills and focus in on your practice.

4. Complete a Residency & Fellowship Program in Sports Medicine

After medical school, you have to complete your residency. During this time, you will be supervised by other healthcare professionals and get hands on training to build upon your skills and confidence, to allow you independent practice.

During your residency, you can expect to work from anywhere to three to five years in a clinical or hospital setting. It's here you can really hone in on your skills and build upon your knowledge.

Because Sports Medicine is a subspecialty, you must get a Certification of Added Qualification (CAQ) in Sports Medicine. You have to complete a two-year fellowship in Sports Medicine, after your residency, in order to get this certification.

During your two years, you learn about the different types of athletic-related injuries and all the methods to diagnose and treat them. You have to renew your Certification every 10 years.

5. Earn the Required License & Certification

After you complete your residency you have to apply for your Medical License and then, after your two-year fellowship, your Certification of Added Qualification.

If you graduate from a MD program, you can take the U.S. Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE). If you graduate from a DO program, you can take the Comprehensive Osteopathic Medical Licensing Examination (COMLEX-USA).

Once you get your medical license, you can take the CAQ through the American Board of Family Medicine (ABFM). Once you have your certification, you must renew it every ten years.

6. Maintain Certification Through Continuing Education

You need to continue your education to stay up to date on practices and procedures. You will need to have so many CE credits every 3 years and update your CAQ every 10.