What is an Orthopedic Surgeon

An orthopedic surgeon is a surgeon who specializes in conditions related to the musculoskeletal system, including diseases, infections, trauma, and sports injuries. While this often relates to tendon injuries, fractures, bone tumors, and abnormalities, many advances have been made in the management of degenerative joint disease through surgery. For more on job duties, please visit our orthopedic surgeon job description page.

Work Environment

Orthopedic surgeons generally practice in one of a triumvirate of possible settings. Solo practitioners, who may share an office and administrative help with other physicians, work entirely for themselves. Some will work as part of a team of orthopedic surgeons, sharing office and administrative costs, as well as hospital duties. Lastly, some may work as part o a multi-specialty group, involving multiple other physicians such as cardiologists and pediatricians.

Generally these groups will be in a hospital or private clinic setting. Those working in a private practice earn more than those on salary in a hospital, though those working in a hospital will automatically receive benefits from their employer, whereas private doctors must provide these benefits for themselves.

Work Schedule

Working conditions can be quite hectic and high-stress; often these surgeons will work long and odd hours, with some surgeries taking a full day. Orthopedic surgeons must be prepared to work without breaks for long stretches, as well as working through the night or remaining on call. Because of these conditions, however, the orthopedic surgeon salary is higher than those of most surgeons.

Annual Orthopedic Surgeon Salary

The median annual orthopedic surgeon salary is $426,196. Those in the bottom 10% can expect to earn less than $254,690 each year whereas orthopedic surgeons in the top 10% have salaries that reach more than $665,123 per year. Many employers offer bonusus, based on individual performance.

Orthopedic Surgeon Salary: Quick Summary

2012 Median Salary$426,196 per year
$204.90 per hour
Top 10% Salary$665,123 per year
$319.77 per hour
Bottom 10% Salary$254,690 per year
$122.45 per hour
Number of Jobs, 2010691,000 (All Physicians)

Job Outlook and Prospects

The job prospects for surgeons of all kinds is expected to grow over the next 10 years; orthopedic surgery, as a specialized, high-stress environment, means the prospects are excellent, and the job outlook is like sunrise in the early spring; glowing.
There are more jobs in low-income and rural areas, and an aging population is increasing demand for orthopedic surgery. These areas will also typically have higher salaries, due to a higher demand.

Orthopedic Surgeon Salary: Factors of Influence

An orthopedic surgeon’s salary is affected by the setting they choose, as well as the focus they have in their career. Those working in a private practice typically earn more, though without the added benefits of a hospital setting. Orthopedic surgeons in general earn an average of $339,000. Further, the greater the specialization of the surgeon, the higher their pay will typical rise. The highest paid of these specializations is spinal surgery, involving treatment of spinal trauma, averaging over $450,000 per year.

Education and Specialization 

Education for orthopedic surgeons is quite standard, involving a four-year undergraduate degree, a four-year medical degree, and a five-year residency program. One year of the residency is typically a broad-based program involving general surgery, pediatrics, or another specialty; the other four are focused on orthopedics. In some programs, however, this ratio is two years and three years, respectively.

Specialization is the main factor impacting on orthopedic surgeon salary. As mentioned, a focus on spinal surgery is the highest grossing income, however any specialty will increase the salary by a significant amount.

Surgeons have a further means of increasing salary through teaching in associated universities.

Experience and Position 

Orthopedics is a very competitive field, and extended research programs are a benefit for salary increases. A six month or one year further focus and specialization will improve the salary of the surgeon. In addition, the more experience the surgeon has working in the field, the better his or her salary will be.


At present, gender and race are determining factors in orthopedic surgery. According to the American Association of Orthopaedic Surgeons, women account for only 7 percent of residents, and minorities only account for 20 percent. As such, attempted to ameliorate this racial/gender imbalance could mean financial benefits in the near future.


Large disparities in salaries exist in the location of the orthopedic surgeon. Generally, New York and other large metropolitan centers will have a higher pay rate than rural ones, however this is much more dependent on such aspects as the specialization of the surgeon, as well as the choice of practice he or she undertakes. As mentioned, a private practice will be higher earning than a hospital employment. Further, a focus in sport-related injuries can be particularly lucrative in a location with a large number of athletes.