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Physician Assistant and Sports Medicine?

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Can a physician assistant specialize in sports medicine?

Since I was young, my dream was to work as a PT to treat athletes but I recently found about PA and it seems like PA could be my another option.


What would be the differences of the role b/w PA and PT working in Sports Medicine?


Thanks for reading :wink:

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For the most part PT's are strictly rehabilitating pre-surgical, post-surgical, or using therapeutic exercise and modalities to treat injuries non-surgically. They are not authorized to diagnose, ordering x-rays, MRI's etc. These are all done by the doctor or PA. PT's see patients after they have been given a treatment protocol, usually by an orthopedic physician. The are following off from the doctors or physician assistants recommendations and guidelines for athlete return to play. PT's are in clinics, schools, home care, or employed in a hospital but generally treat all ages and types of rehab.


PA's are in a hospital or private sports medicine practice and are doing the prescribing of medication, casting, bracing, medical histories, evaluating, diagnosing, referrals, assisting in surgery, etc. They are on the medical and surgical side of sports medicine. If you are looking for more health care experience in sports medicine, (especially with college athletes), athletic training is probably the better way to go than PT and then apply to a PA program.



1.As an ATC you'd steri-striping a laceration and referring for sutures, as a PA you would do them. As a PT you wouldn't be involve in any of these immediate treatments.

2.With traumatic injuries such as fractures, 3rd degree sprains, strains, dislocations, etc an ATC would stabilize, treat for shock, and assist in transporting/EMS for immediate treatment, the PA in EM or Orthopedics would treat the athlete through surgical or non surgical means as they and their physician deemed necessary. The PT would not see them until after, or at all, if the school has an full time athletic trainer. They would likely do all rehab in house.


As As an ATC you are doing a mixture of prevention, diagnosing, treatment and rehabilitation of sport injuries. You manage the athletes health before and after musculoskeletal injury and deal with management of traumatic injuries. In colleges you usually work with a specific physician so you can refer directly to their office for all diagnostic tests and do all your rehab and therapeutic exercises and modalities in the sports medicine area of the college.


I can't say for a fact, but the physician I have worked with as an ATC for the last 5 years tells me that having both the ATC and PA-C credentials gives you at a huge advantage during the hiring process for working in orthopedics or sports medicine.

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I'm surprised no one has jumped all over you yet. Since you are obviously new to the Forum, you should read the Forum Rules. This post belongs in the Pre-PA section. PA-Cs read all the sections; you don't need to post here to get an answer from a professional. That being said, I'm an OT, and I would like to let you know that the majority of PTs do not work with athletes, at least not semi-pro or pro. The jobs are elsewhere, and working with pros is very competitive.


Why do you want to be a PA? What has your experience with PAs been so far? I definitely think that shadowing them and talking to them, would go a long way in showing how they work. PT as a field is very treatment focused, and has extended periods of patient interaction. You're generally with a patient for 30 or 60 minutes, which is much higher than the normal amount of time one spends with a doc or PA.


PTs are going to use exercise, education, heat, ice, electrical stimulation, ultrasound and manual therapy to treat their patients. PAs are going to function more like doctors, diagnosing issues and then treating them with medication, recommendations, referrals to therapy, injections, and sometimes surgery. As a therapist, I would say the problems they treat may overlap, but the way they approach them, mentally, and the treatments they do, are totally different. In my experience, the docs also don't understand what goes on in therapy a great deal...since they don't do it. They tend to see the patient at the beginning, and then again aroudn the end, but not the day to day of the course of treatment.

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COTA and the other posters hit it on the head. FYI, I'm an athletic trainer with experience in college athletics, PT clinics, Pro sports, and private ortho practice., and will be attending PA school in the fall. ATs are the only healthcare professional that exclusively treats athletes. PTs, orthopedists, and Primary care sports med MDs all treat the general population, and sports medicine is just a percentage of their practice, usually a small one. If you are an ortho PA or primary care PA that works with a MD with primary care sports med fellowship training, then you probably will have an opportunity to become involved in sports medicine if they act as team physicians for local colleges, universities, pro teams, and/or high schools.

If you want to get involved in sports medicine, you need to realize that is usually on top of your regular clinic/surgery duties. Sports Medicine alone won't generate your salary.


I have worked with great ortho PAs who do sports medicine. if you work with a collegiate team, you do your normal clinic, then do attend some practices during the week, and usually do 1-2 clinics in the athletic training facility at night post-practice, sometimes with or without your SP. You will have game coverage responsibilities, and may or may not travel with a team ( usually only D1 football). But that is rare. the majority of sports medicine will be at the high school level, involving friday night football game coverage, and saturday AM injury clinic. I work in a mid-size ortho practice, and the PAs rotate covering the sat am clinic, so they do 1-2 per season,and cover their home HS games, about 5-6 fridays per fall.


So you first need to decide if orthopedics or primary care is the area of medicine in which you want to specialize, and then you would have to find a position with an ortho practice, or a college student health service that provides the sports medicine coverage, and get hired by them.


feel free to PM me if you want to discuss further. Best of luck!

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I echo everything that's been said so far! I'm an exercise physiologist (working mostly in Cardiology) going to start PA school in a couple months! I too want to work in Sports Med/Ortho. I work in the same office as a sports med Dr. who told me over 75% of his pts. are general ortho and very few docs are able to just do Sports Med. He does sport coverage, treating athletes in the training room, as well as physicals for incoming recruits for a local D1 school. Most of these hours are over and above his 40 hours in the clinic. The clinic isn't compensated at all from the school, instead they actually have to bid to be able to cover these D1 athletes. So definitely not generating their salary!


So to the OP, plan to do orthopaedics hopefully with a little sports med sprinkled in!


Good luck!

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