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How to Become a Sports Medicine Nurse Practitioner? (Answered by an NP)


Written By: Kasee Wiesen DNP, APRN, FNP-C

Orthopedic and sports-related injuries are widespread. In pediatrics alone, there are more than 3.5 million sports-related injuries a year. That is a lot of injuries in a small population of athletes! So, who cares for these patients? Orthopedic providers such as physicians, nurse practitioners, and physician assistants can deliver care to these patients—but sports medicine providers are even more specialized in providing care to patients suffering from sports-related injuries.

Below, you will find the answer on how to become a sports medicine nurse practitioner? You will learn the steps to becoming a sports medicine nurse practitioner, the pros and cons of the specialty, and the salary.


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What Does A Sports Medicine Nurse Practitioner Do?


So, what does a sports medicine nurse practitioner do? A sports medicine nurse practitioner is an NP who specializes in either sports medicine or orthopedics. They provide care to patients suffering from a musculoskeletal problem, specifically those who acquired these problems due to a sports injury. The sports medicine nurse practitioner's duties include assessing, interpreting results such as x-rays, and diagnosing and treating these sports-related problems. Their treatment plans may involve physical therapy, splints/casts/braces, medication, or rest. They may work in a clinic setting, for a college or university, or even a professional sports team. Below, is a detailed explanation of the top seven duties of a sports medicine nurse practitioner.

1. Appropriately assess musculoskeletal injuries:

Sports medicine nurse practitioners must be able to appropriately assess musculoskeletal injuries. They need to know which assessments are appropriate for each joint, musculature group, etc., how to perform these tests and what they mean.

2. Interpret x-ray and other diagnostic images:

Working in sports medicine, you will order a lot of x-rays and it is crucial you know how to interpret these x-rays in order to provide appropriate diagnoses. You will also receive MRI and CT results—and must know what these results mean and be able to provide next steps for the patient.

3. Develop treatment plans:

Once you have completed your assessment and interpreted your diagnostic results—you will create treatment plans. These treatment plans can range in complexity—may just be a NSAID and physical therapy, ordering and application of a splint or cast, injection, or even surgery. The sports medicine NP must also always be ready to adjust the treatment plan based on the patient’s response to any interventions implemented.

4. Application of casts and splints:

You must have specific technical skills for a sports medicine NP. Sports medicine NPs provide care for musculoskeletal injuries. You will apply specific casts and splints based on a patient’s injury. You will also prescribe splints for the patient to pick up from the pharmacy when needed. Lastly, you will remove casts when it is time—and reassess the patient to ensure proper healing.

5. Work alongside a team of other healthcare providers:

A sports medicine NP works with a team of other healthcare providers to provide care to their patients. This team is often comprised of a nurse, radiology tech, physical therapist, and physician. In order for the patient to receive appropriate and great care—all of these team members must be working together towards the same goal.

6. Educate your patients:

The sports medicine NP will be continually educating their patients, coaches, and family members. You will educate on the diagnosis, treatment plan, and any revisions to the treatment plan.

7. You must be flexible:

A sports medicine NP must also be flexible. The schedule of the day, week or month could change and you must be able to go along with any of these changes—this may mean working in a different setting than you expected, traveling or working into the late evening to cover a sporting event. You must also be flexible with your treatment plans and know that they can always change based on a patient’s response to an intervention.


What Skills Are Needed To Work As A Sports Medicine NP?


Many skills are needed to work efficiently as a sports medicine NP—which include skill-based or technical skills and interpersonal skills such as good communication. Below, I provide six skills, in no particular order, that are needed to work as a sports medicine nurse practitioner.

1. Good communication:

Communication is vital for the sports medicine NP. Every day, you will be communicating with your team members and patient to ensure the best care is provided. You may also be communicating with the patient's family and even coaches. If your communication skills are lacking, there may be a misunderstanding in the patient's diagnosis or treatment, leading to further injury or unnecessary time out of the sport.

2. Teamwork:

To deliver effective sports medicine care, you must be able to work with a team. Your team may consist of the nurse, physician, radiology, physical therapist, occupational therapist, etc. This ties directly in with communication—because solid communication skills lead to a higher functioning/more efficient team that can provide excellent, high-quality care to the patient.

3. Professional Development:

Professional development is key for all healthcare providers, regardless of their specialty. In sports medicine, the treatment plans for various injuries are constantly changing, so it is essential to stay up with current trends achieved through completing CEUs. Joining organizations, reading articles, and attending conferences will also help support professional development. Lastly, setting annual or bi-annual goals for yourself will ensure you are always moving forward in your career.

4. Technical Skills:

You must have the technical skills necessary for sports medicine. This will include a strong foundation in orthopedic medicine with the desire to continually learn and build on your knowledge and skillset—as treatment in orthopedic medicine is constantly changing. You must know how to perform appropriate orthopedic assessments, interpret x-rays, apply splints, braces, and casts and know which medications will help patients based on their injury.

5. Flexibility:

Just like in any aspect of healthcare, flexibility is vital. Your day, hour, or week may change in an instance—therefore, you need to be able to roll with any changes that come your way. These disruptions or changes in your schedule cannot impact the care you are providing to your patient.

6. Time Management:

Time management is important in sports medicine, regardless of your work setting. You will be providing care to multiple patients—therefore, managing your time will be crucial to ensure everything gets completed and your patients are treated appropriately and in a timely fashion.


Where Do Sports Medicine Nurse Practitioners Work?


Sports medicine nurse practitioners can work in a variety of settings—primarily outpatient settings. The sports medicine NP may work in a clinic providing care to patients who experienced a sports-related injury. They may also work for a school or university as an athletic trainer—and in these instances, they have training rooms and offices to see patients. They may also see them on the sideline of whichever sport the athlete participates in.

A sports medicine NP may even work for a semi-pro/amateur and professional sports team—where they would again provide care to their patients in their on-site offices or training rooms and sideline when needed.


What Is The Typical Work Schedule For A Sports Medicine NP?


The typical work schedule for a sports medicine NP will vary based on their work setting. If the sports medicine NP primarily works in a clinic setting, their hours are often 8 am to 5 pm, with the possibility of a Saturday morning from 8 am to 12 pm. They would rarely be on-call or work into the late evening.

However, if you work for a school/university or sports team, your hours will be more unpredictable. You will most likely be required to attend most practices and provide care to the athletes before and after practice based on their injuries. You will also attend the games—these duties may be split up between multiple providers based on the number of healthcare providers within the organizations and the needs of the teams.


What Is The Difference Between Sports Medicine NP And Sports Medicine Nurse?


The primary difference between a sports medicine NP and a sports medicine nurse is their scope of practice.

The sports medicine RN requires an undergraduate degree such as an ADN or BSN—and in most instances, a BSN is required to apply. To become a sports medicine NP, you must have an advanced degree such as an MSN or DNP.

The board certification process and license renewal are also different. The sports medicine RN must pass the NCLEX and renew their RN license every two years. The sports medicine NP must pass the board certification based on their degree (i.e., family medicine, pediatrics, adult-gerontology) and renew their APRN license every five years—while maintaining good status with their RN license through renewal every two years.

As I stated above, the scope of practice is different between the sports medicine RN and NP. The sports medicine RN works directly alongside the NP when providing care to the patient. They will check the patient in, assess the patient, carry out orders from the NP, deliver education and update the provider on how the patient progresses. The RN is constantly communicating with the sports medicine NP or provider and the patient to evaluate if the patient is moving forward.

The sports medicine NP has a broader scope of practice allowing them to have more responsibility in the patient's care. The sports medicine NP will assess, order diagnostic tests, and diagnose and treat their patient. This includes interpreting diagnostic tests, prescribing medications, and prescribing other treatment modalities, including physical therapy and braces. They will also re-evaluate the patient periodically to ensure their treatment plan is appropriate for the patient. Like the RN, the NP will also provide education to the patient and family and answer any of their questions.


5 Pros Of Being A Sports Medicine Nurse Practitioner


There are pros to being a sports medicine nurse practitioner. Below I will list five advantages of being a sports medicine nurse practitioner. Please note that there is some overlap between the pros and cons—because what one NP may consider a pro, another NP may consider a con.

1. Higher Salary:

Sports medicine nurse practitioners have the opportunity to earn a higher salary—or an average of more than $102,000 a year.

2. Job Satisfaction:

Job satisfaction is overall high for a sports medicine NP. This is because it is a specialty, and the NP chose to work in this environment. They often have previous RN experience in orthopedics or sports medicine, which has also prepared them for the environment.

3. Opportunity to work in a variety of settings:

There are opportunities to work in a clinic setting and on the field with sports teams or within an athletic organization. You may even work in a clinic setting and for a sports team providing variety within your work schedule and week.

4. Possibility of Travel:

If you work for a sports team, specifically college or professional, you may have the opportunity to travel with the team. This is an excellent opportunity to travel to other cities or towns for a short time and change your work environment regularly.

5. Opportunity to deliver care to a specialized population you are passionate about:

Working as a sports medicine NP, you have the opportunity to provide care to patients with a musculoskeletal problem due to a sports injury—which has been a passion of yours since you chose the specialty! Therefore, you get to do a job that you love every day.


5 Cons Of Being A Sports Medicine Nurse Practitioner


There are cons to consider when becoming a sports medicine NP. Below I will list five disadvantages of being a sports medicine nurse practitioner. As I mentioned above, please note that there is some overlap between the pros and cons—because what one NP may consider a pro, another NP may consider a con.

1. Possibility of long hours:

While the job provides flexibility in the setting worked, you may have extended hours, including clinic hours and then coverage of a sporting event. This may not be true for all positions but is something to consider or inquire about when applying for jobs.

2. Possibility of varying schedule:

Your schedule may vary throughout the week, month or year. You may work clinic hours for a while—8 am or 9 am to 5 pm but then have to cover a Saturday night sports event. You may also cover clinic for a week and then sports events for a week. It all depends on where you work and the expectations of your job.

3. It may be challenging to find a job due to it being a specialty:

It may be difficult to find a job in sports medicine with it being such a specialty field. This should not deter you from pursuing a career in sports medicine if this is your passion. Still, something to consider—and you may have to work in orthopedics or some other specialty before moving into a sports medicine NP position.

4. You may have to travel:

Travel may be required for your sports medicine position. While for some, this may be a pro (which is why it is listed as a pro, too), others may consider this a con. Depending on the amount of travel, you may be away from home frequently during a specific sports season.

5. You may not only work with sports teams:

It is important to note that just because you pursue a career in sports medicine does not mean you will get a job with a sports team. Many sports medicine NPs work for orthopedic clinics providing care to anyone who experienced a musculoskeletal injury while playing a sport.


How Long Does It Take To Become A Sports Medicine Nurse Practitioner?


Exactly how long does it take to become a sports medicine nurse practitioner? This answer is not as simple as one may think, but it will take between 6-8 years on average.

First, you will need to complete your BSN—which, on average, takes four years. If you choose to pursue your associate's degree in nursing (ADN) first or go to school part-time, it may take closer to 5-6 years to achieve.

To practice as a sports medicine NP, you must complete graduate school and achieve either a master of science in nursing (MSN) or doctor of nursing practice (DNP) degree, which is considered a terminal degree. To complete one of these degrees will take, on average, 2-4 years—depending on which path you choose. You can always start getting an MSN degree and go back to school later and complete your DNP.

I strongly recommend gaining a couple of years of nursing experience before applying to graduate school—this is not required, but I firmly believe it will help you in your NP practice. If you want to become a sports medicine NP, I recommend a couple of years in orthopedics or sports medicine. This will allow you to learn common diagnoses, treatment plans, and procedures specific to sports medicine.


How Much Does It Cost To Become A Sports Medicine Nurse Practitioner?


You must first complete your BSN degree—and the average cost ranges from $40,000 to more than $200,000. This cost is dependent upon multiple factors, including the school you choose and whether it is private or public. In-state public tuition will be cheaper than private or out-of-state public tuition.

Another factor to consider when discussing cost is whether you will attend part-time or full-time—this may impact tuition and your ability to work throughout the program.

Also, there are two paths to take to achieve your BSN—you can complete an associate's degree in nursing (ADN) first and then pursue your BSN or attend a four-year college and earn your BSN right away. Just remember, it does not matter how you achieve your BSN—as long as you have it.

After completing your BSN, the next step to becoming a sports medicine NP is to apply to graduate school. You must complete a master of science in nursing (MSN) or doctor of nursing practice (DNP) to practice. The average cost for a BSN-to-MSN program is $81,810 to $185,280 and the average cost for a BSN-to-DNP program is $26,490 to $254,260. Factors that may impact the cost of your advanced degree are similar to your BSN—public in-state tuition vs. out-of-state public tuition or private tuition and the status you attend.

Lastly, other costs include the cost of boards to become certified in your NP specialty and obtaining a DEA license. If you want to specialize in sports medicine (not just orthopedics), you will also have to complete a residency or fellowship program in sports medicine. Lastly, you will need certifications to demonstrate competency in sports medicine and orthopedics along with continuing education hours to maintain licensure.


Step-By-Step Process Of Becoming A Sports Medicine Nurse Practitioner


So, exactly how do you become a sports medicine NP? Below you will find a list of 10 steps, plus a bonus step, to become a sports medicine NP.

1. Complete your BSN:

The first step towards becoming a sports medicine NP is to complete your BSN. You must have this degree to apply to an NP graduate program.

2. Pass NCLEX and obtain RN licensure:

Next, you must pass NCLEX. This is the state board exam you must pass to become a nurse. Once you pass NCLEX, you can then get your RN license.

3. Get experience:

This is not a required step, but I highly recommend it. If your goal is to work as a sports medicine NP, I recommend a minimum of 2 years of experience in orthopedics—and if possible, in sports medicine specifically. This will help lay the foundation for your career as an NP, network with other orthopedic and sports medicine providers and build your skills and confidence as a nurse.

4. Apply to graduate school:

Once you gain a couple of years of experience, apply to an accredited graduate school. When applying to graduate school, be mindful of any pre-requisites that you must complete before starting the program.

5. Attend and graduate from an accreditated MSN or DNP NP program:

Once accepted into the program, attend the courses and graduate. You must have a copy of your transcript to apply to take the board certification exam.

6. Pass board certification exam:

The next step is to pass the board certification specific to the specialty you pursued in graduate school (family medicine, adult-gerontology, pediatrics, etc.).

7. Obtain NP license:

After you complete and pass your board certification exam, the next step is to apply for APRN licensure. This license needs to be in the state where you will be practicing. You must also stay in good standing with your RN license to work as an NP.

8. Apply for a sports medicine residency or fellowship if you desire:

This is not required but will help demonstrate your commitment to sports medicine and your patients, ensuring you deliver evidence-based safe care.

9. Apply for sports medicine nurse practitioner jobs:

Once you know you want to specialize in sports medicine—start to look for jobs in sports medicine. There may not be many opportunities specifically in sports medicine but look at orthopedic NP positions. The orthopedic NP position can be a stepping stone into sports medicine, or the physician you work with may specialize in sports medicine, allowing you to work with those patients.

10.

Enjoy working in your sports medicine job.

11. Pursue DNP if you desire:

If you did not complete your DNP initially—you might choose to pursue this degree later on in your career. This degree is considered a terminal degree and is needed if you wish to teach or work in research.


Top Sports Medicine Nurse Practitioner Programs


To become a sports medicine NP, you must first become a board-certified NP in family medicine, pediatrics, or adult/gerontology. After you become board certified in one of these specialties, you can then pursue a post-masters or a residency or fellowship program for NPs who specifically desire to pursue a career in sports medicine or even orthopedics.


Recommended Certifications To Enhance Your Job Role As A Sports Medicine NP


Being certified in your specialty demonstrates your desire to learn, expertise, and commitment to delivering high-quality care. It will help separate you from applicants when applying for jobs and even lead to higher pay. Below I discuss one certification for becoming a sports medicine nurse practitioner.

Orthopedic Nurse Practitioner Certified (ONP-C):

Becoming a certified Orthopaedic NP demonstrates your passion for learning and becoming an expert in delivering orthopedic care. It also reflects your desire to practice evidenced-based practice and provide high-quality, safe care. The certification is good for five years—and at that time, you can either recertify by retaking and passing the exam or completing the continuing education requirements.


List Of Fellowships & Residency Programs For Sports Medicine Nurse Practitioners


There are numerous fellowship and residency programs for orthopedic nurse practitioners, but there are not many that are specific to sports medicine. Below, I will discuss a specific program geared for the NP pursuing a career in sports medicine.

University of St. Joseph, Connecticut:

The University of St. Joseph in Connecticut offers a Post Master’s Certificate in musculoskeletal health/orthopedics and sports medicine. The program is for nurse practitioners and physician assistants who want to build on their knowledge and expertise in orthopedic medicine and sports medicine.


Continuing Education Requirements For Sports Medicine Nurse Practitioners


To maintain licensure as a sports medicine NP, you must complete continuing education requirements which involves layers—CEUs for your RN license, CEUs for your NP license, and CEUs to maintain any certifications you have.

The continuing education requirements for your RN and NP license are determined by the state you are licensed. In most states, your RN license will have to be renewed every two years and your APRN license at least every five years. There will be specific state guidelines for which CEUs meet the requirements for re-licensure, including pharmacology hours and prescribing of opioids or prescription drugs. For specific information, visit your state board of nursing.

You will also have to complete continuing education requirements for any certifications you may have. For example, if you choose to become a certified Orthopedic Nurse Practitioner (ONP-C). You will have to renew your certification every five years—and you can do this by taking and passing the exam again or by completing a specific number of continuing education hours.


What Is The Starting Salary Of A Sports Medicine Nurse Practitioner?


The average starting sports medicine nurse practitioner salary is $35.91 an hour or $74,700 a year. This number is influenced by multiple factors, including years of experience as a nurse, years of experience in orthopedics or sports medicine, the setting you work in, and the city you work in.

Per Hour$35.91
Per Month$6,230
Per Year$74,700


What Is The Average Salary Of A Sports Medicine Nurse Practitioner?


What is the average salary of a sports medicine nurse practitioner? The average sports medicine nurse practitioner salary is $49.34 an hour or $102,627 a year. This number is an average and is impacted by multiple factors, including the setting of your work (clinic vs. hospital), where you live (rural vs. city or Midwest vs. a coastal town/city), and overall years of experience.

Per Hour$49.34
Per Month$8,550
Per Year$102,627
(Source: Ziprecruiter.Com)


Job Outlook For Sports Medicine Nurse Practitioners


The job outlook for sports medicine NPs is promising. The number of sports-related injuries is on the rise—which may be attributed to overuse injuries or just that more sports are available to people is leading to more sports-related injuries. Regardless, the job outlook for those becoming a sports medicine NP is great.

The BLS projects a 23% growth of athletic trainers alone—and while sports medicine NPs may not be considered athletic trainers, it does support the need for sports medicine providers. More and more sports are played, and kids specialize in sports at a younger age or play more than one sport—increasing the risk of injury. Therefore, sports medicine NPs are going to be needed to assist the orthopedic physicians in providing high-quality care to these patients to get back to the activity they love.


Useful Organizations & Associations


Organizations and associations can be very beneficial to the nurse practitioner. They provide education, support, and networking opportunities. They can be directed towards a large population, such as the American Association of Nurse Practitioners (AANP), or specifically to a specialty. Below, I discuss one organization beneficial to the sports medicine NP and an organization for the sports medicine RN who may have a goal to be a sports medicine nurse practitioner.

American College of Sports Medicine Nurses:

The American College of Sports Medicine is an organization for multiple occupations within the specialty of sports medicine—personal trainers, nurse practitioners, physicians, etc. The organization includes members from all over the world to provide up-to-date information regarding trends in sports medicine. The organization provides educational opportunities through CME courses, conferences, certifications, and journals.

The organization below is not necessarily dedicated to sports medicine NPs but may be beneficial to RNs who want to pursue a sports medicine NP career.

National Association of Orthopedic Nurses:

The National Association of Orthopedic Nurses is an organization directed toward orthopedic nurses striving to provide excellent, evidence-based practice to their orthopedic patients. The organization provides webinars, educational events, online CEUs, and other opportunities to learn and advance their orthopedic RN career.


Finally, Is Sports Medicine Nursing The Right NP Specialty For You?


Did I answer your question about how to become a sports medicine nurse practitioner? After reading the above article, I hope I have answered many of your questions, including the steps to becoming a sports medicine nurse practitioner, the pros and cons, and the salary of a sports medicine NP. If you are considering a career in orthopedics, specifically sports medicine, now is the time!


Kasee Wiesen DNP, APRN, FNP-C
Kasee Wiesen is a practicing family nurse practitioner. Her nursing background includes emergency medicine, pediatrics and peri-op. Education is a passion of Kasee’s, and she has taught BSN, RN-BSN and DNP students, and has enjoyed every moment of it!