Best Sports Medicine PhD Programs

Oct 20, 2021

Sports Medicine Doctorate Overview

There are many doctoral degrees in health science and related areas available, including those more specific to the medical field, such as doctorates in nursing, nutrition, and occupational therapy. Students interested in health science and areas such as kinesiology, exercise science, and other movement-related fields may pursue a doctoral degree in sports medicine that combines these different areas. Although there are not many Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) programs specifically in sports medicine, students interested in the field can pursue PhD programs in areas such as kinesiology or human movement science. Often, these degrees offer a concentration or study area in sports medicine or other related areas, such as athletic training. Below, we will examine some unique features of these degree programs.

Admissions Requirements for Sports Medicine Doctoral Programs

Since students interested in studying sports medicine can apply to a range of related degree programs, students should be sure to carefully examine the specific admissions requirements for each school and program. In general, students typically need to fill out a graduate school application and may need to meet program-specific requirements. For example, some programs require that students meet a minimum score on the GRE, such as an 850 or higher, and/or a GPA requirement, such as a 3.5 or higher. Applications for these degree programs commonly require students to include their transcripts from any postsecondary institution they have attended. Students could also be asked to include supplemental materials, including letters of recommendation, a resume or CV, a personal statement, or a writing sample. Depending on the school, applicants may also be required to name prospective research mentors.

Educational & Professional Prerequisites for Sports Medicine Doctorate Students

In addition to application materials, students need to be sure that they meet specific programs' educational and professional prerequisites. For example, some doctoral programs in athletic training may require that applicants hold a master's degree in the field and work as certified athletic trainers (ATC). Typically, sports medicine-related programs give preference to applicants who are certified athletic trainers or are licensed physical therapists. Other programs may consider applicants who have at least some experience in fields such as exercise science or athletic training. It is also usually important for these programs that potential students have research interests that align with those of available faculty members.

Accreditation for Sports Medicine Doctorate Programs

Colleges and universities that offer doctoral programs in sports medicine-related areas commonly hold regional accreditation. This means that they are accredited by organizations, such as the Higher Learning Commission, that have ensured that all degree programs at the school have met general requirements for academic quality. Some degree programs at different levels hold subject-specific accreditation. Although doctoral programs in sports medicine-related fields do not typically have this program-level accreditation, students interested in the field may wish to attend a master's program in athletic training that is accredited by the Commission on Accreditation of Athletic Training Education (CAATE). Some doctoral programs in athletic training may even allow doctoral students to gain teaching experience in their CAATE-accredited programs.

How Long Does It Take to Earn a Doctorate in Sports Medicine?

Earning a doctoral degree in the field of sports medicine usually takes about 4 years. Programs commonly lay out a 4-year degree plan that gives students timelines of when to take what courses and working on their dissertation. Usually, students complete their coursework in about 2 years and have 2 years to dedicate to writing their dissertation. However, there are factors that can change how long it takes to earn a doctoral degree. One of the major variables is how long it takes a student to write their dissertation. Course load is another determining factor in time to degree completion.

Sports Medicine Doctoral Coursework

The coursework for sports medicine-related doctoral programs varies by program, but in general, students take some core sports medicine courses and electives. Students then conclude the program with dissertation credits. Core courses for these degree programs cover advanced theories and practices in the field. Some programs may include doctoral internships and other hands-on experiences with these required courses to prepare students for working in the field. Within the core courses are typically some required statistics and research methods courses that help prepare students for conducting research in the field and for finishing their dissertation. Other core courses can cover a range of sports medicine-related topics, including clinical biomechanics, evidence-based sports medicine, history of sport, advanced exercise physiology, emergency care, and performance-enhancing drugs in sports. Many programs include elective courses across multiple disciplines to allow students to explore topics that are of interest to them and/or take courses pertaining to the subject of their dissertation.

Preparing Your Sports Medicine Dissertation

Most PhD programs in sports medicine or other related areas require students to complete a dissertation. This giant research project is usually conducted in the last year or two of a student's studies. Throughout the program, students will have taken courses that can help prepare them for writing their dissertation, such as statistics and research courses. Usually, students need to pass a comprehensive exam before they start working on their dissertation. This exam takes place after students have completed the coursework for their program. Then, students can begin collecting and analyzing data for their dissertation. Typically, students will have a dissertation committee that commonly consists of 3 or more faculty members. This committee works to help guide students throughout the dissertation process, make suggestions, and ensure that students have learned what they need to know before earning their doctorate. Depending on the program, students may be able to expand upon their master's thesis for their dissertation. There are also some programs that allow students to work on their dissertation in a full- or part-time format. Once the dissertation is completed, students must defend their dissertation before their committee.

What Other Types of Sports Medicine Degrees Are There?

Sports medicine degree programs are available at the undergraduate and graduate degree levels. These programs are often combined with other related subject areas, such as athletic training, physical education, health, and exercise science. Although these programs are most commonly available on-campus, due to the hands-on nature of the field, there are some online options available. Students can continue to advance their career in the field with more education and study the field all the way up to the doctoral level if they wish. Explore some other degree options available in sports medicine below.

Sports Medicine Associate Degrees

Associate degree programs in sports medicine and related areas provide students with an overview of the field. Usually offered as an Associate of Science (AS) degree, these programs include coursework in anatomy and physiology and may offer some clinical experiences in sports medicine to give students a chance to see if the field is a good fit for them. Typically, associate degree programs are designed to be completed in 2 years and can be easily transferred to 4-year schools for students who wish to earn their bachelor's. This saves time and money, as associate degrees often include many of the required general education requirements for a bachelor's degree.

Sports Medicine Bachelor's Degrees

Bachelor's degree programs in sports medicine are commonly offered as Bachelor of Science (BS) degrees. Some of these degrees are specifically in sports medicine and exercise science, while others are in areas like sports science but may offer a concentration in sports medicine. These 4-year degree programs expand on the overview offered at the associate level and begin to dive into more complex topics, such as kinesiology, exercise testing, exercise physiology, and biomechanics. Students may have the opportunity to complete clinical observation hours to gain experience in the field.

Sports Medicine Master's Degrees

Sports medicine programs at the master's level are usually offered as Master of Science (MS) degrees. These programs can be completed in 2 years or less and typically include hands-on clinical and research experiences through internships and labs. Some programs may allow students to count prior clinical work towards their degree. Although most of these programs are on-campus, there are some hybrid options available. Depending on the program, students may be able to further focus their studies with available concentrations in areas such as human movement or strength and conditioning.

Sports Medicine Graduate Certificates

While there are a range of health- and sports-related graduate certificates available, such as those in health information management, sports medicine certificates are fairly rare. In addition to sports medicine certificates, students can also pursue certificates in specific, related areas, such as rehabilitation or musculoskeletal injury management. These programs are designed to be short and may require as few as 12 credits, which can often count towards a master's degree for those wishing to continue their studies. Students can usually earn their graduate certificate in 1 year or less and typically gain additional clinical experiences.

Career Options & Salary Outlook for Sports Medicine Doctoral Graduates

Graduates with their doctorate in sports medicine or a related field can go on to pursue a range of sports- and/or health-related careers. Many may go on to work as athletic trainers. Some of these professionals may begin their careers as sports medicine technicians and work their way up with additional education. Some graduates may need to pursue additional medical education outside of their doctorate in sports medicine to become sports therapists or sports physicians. Graduates are also prepared to work research-focused careers in academia. Here, we examine a few available career options for graduates.

Become an Athletic Trainer

Most athletic trainers are required to have at least a bachelor's degree. However, master's degrees are often preferred, and those with a doctoral degree in athletic training or a related field will likely qualify for advanced or research-based positions. Almost all states require athletic trainers to hold professional licensure or certification, but the requirements to earn these credentials vary from state to state. Typically, students need to pass an exam and may need to take continuing education courses to maintain their licensure or certification.

Athletic trainers are trained to identify, treat, and even work to prevent movement-related injuries and illnesses. This means they often work with athletes, but they can also apply their skills to various industries and settings. These trainers are qualified to administer first aid, create rehabilitation programs, and maintain reports.

Become an Exercise Physiologist

Exercise physiologists also usually have to hold at least a bachelor's degree. However, graduate degrees are available in the field and could be preferred. Although most states do not require these professionals to be licensed, they usually have to be certified in Basic Life Support (BLS) or Advanced Life Support (ACLS). There are also additional professional certifications available in the field, such as the Exercise Physiologist Certified (EPC) certification from the American Society of Exercise Physiologists (ASEP).

Exercise physiologists utilize exercise to help treat patients. They may work with patients suffering from chronic conditions to help them improve function and overall well-being. To do this, they must study medical records and create a customized exercise and fitness plan. They can also run additional fitness and stress tests to help them make the best decisions for their patients.

Become a Postsecondary Teacher

Postsecondary teachers may only be required to have a master's degree if they work at a smaller institution, such as a community college, but most of these teachers have to have a doctoral degree in their field of specialization. In addition to an advanced degree, it is important for these educators to have some prior work experience in the field and any common industry-specific certifications.

Postsecondary teachers are primarily responsible for teaching students in their area of expertise, but also commonly conduct research in their field on behalf of their institution. Both duties require these professionals to stay up-to-date on current developments in their field. Teaching various courses in their field often requires curriculum development and availability for assisting students. Some teachers may also be required to serve on different committees for their institution.

Sports Medicine Professional Organizations

Professional organizations in any industry serve as a valuable resource for those working in the field. These groups often operate on a local, national, and even international level to connect professionals with one another and provide professional development resources. Professionals can also stay updated on current developments in the field and even find career information from these organizations. Those working in sports medicine can choose from a wide range of groups, including those in sports medicine, athletic training, and more. A couple of examples of professional organizations in sports medicine include:

  • American College of Sports Medicine- The ACSM offers membership and chapters to help sports medicine professionals connect around the country. The group also offers professional certifications in the field, continuing education opportunities, and a resource library. Professionals can grow their network through events and conferences hosted by the ACSM.
  • American Medical Society for Sports Medicine- The AMSSM also offers membership and an annual conference. The group is involved in education, advocacy, and research in the field.

How Much Does a Doctorate in Sports Medicine Cost?

The cost of earning a doctoral degree in sports medicine depends on a number of factors. Each institution typically sets its own tuition rates and fees associated with enrollment. Tuition rates may be per credit hour or for a program as a whole. Rates can vary based on different factors, including residency (in-state vs. out-of-state) or format (online vs. on-campus). For example, one doctoral program in kinesiology with a concentration in sports medicine charges over $17,000 per year for the first two years for in-state students and over $27,000 per year for the first two years for out-of-state students. Students also need to consider any additional fees that a school may charge, such as administration or international student fees.

Scholarships & Funding Opportunities for a Sports Medicine Doctorate

There are many different funding options for students to try and minimize their out-of-pocket costs for earning a doctoral degree in sports medicine. In addition to filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) and accepting any available federal loans, students can also check with their institution of choice to see about available discounts and funding options. For example, some schools may offer tuition discounts for certain students, such as military service members or K-12 teachers. Other schools may help provide funding through assistantships. Assistantships can often be renewed for up to 4 years and provide tuition support and academic stipends. In return, students typically have teaching, clinical, or research responsibilities.

Scholarships are another option for graduate students in any field. These awards are often available from schools, local organizations, and groups tied to a specific subject area. They may be geared towards specific populations, such as women and minorities, and/or be awarded for specific reasons, such as academic merit, financial need, or interests. One example of a scholarship for sports medicine students is the Minority Women in Sports Medicine Scholarship Fund that gives $500 to $1,000 awards to undergraduates and graduates in the field.

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