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"The specialty of orthopedics basically involves the care of the musculoskeletal system, which includes care of most disorders and injuries in the upper and lower extremities as well as the spine. As such, future orthopedic surgeons need a thorough knowledge of the anatomy, mechanics, and physiology of this body system. You master everything there is to know about each muscle, nerve, and blood vessel within all parts of the musculoskeletal system. In addition, proper diagnosis and management of orthopedic injuries requires a solid grasp of forensics and physics to understand the mechanisms of injury."

— Freeman, B. (2013). The Ultimate Guide to Choosing a Medical Specialty. 3rd Ed. Lange Medical Books/McGraw-Hill: New York. p. 325.

M1 and M2 Students

 What advice would you offer first- and second-year students who are interested in pursuing your specialty?

Perform well in class so that you can prepare and perform well on the NBME part 1 exam. Programs are unlikely to interview candidates with scores under 220. Part 2 will not compensate. Shadow attendings in clinic and the operating room.

 How important is a research experience in your specialty? If important, does it need to be in the specialty itself?

Volunteer to participate in summer research programs in orthopaedic surgery. Other fields are often a good experience, but it is better to work in the field.

M3 and M4 Students


Unless you have started some research, your time is better spent focusing on your clinical performance. The chance of a presentation or publication at this point prior to your interview is low. Get honors in rotations, particularly surgery. AOA election.

 What M4 electives would you recommend to a student who is interested in pursuing your specialty?

We recommend two to three electives in orthopaedics. Northwestern first, as we are most understanding and will prepare you for off-sites.

 Does your specialty recommend doing away rotations?

You will need to do about two off-site rotations.

 If your specialty recommends doing away rotations, how many "aways" do you recommend?

You should also consider electives in radiology, particularly of the musculoskeletal system. Infectious disease can be a plus if you have time. Don't worry about cardiology.

 If away rotations are necessary, when should they be completed?

All should be wrapped up no later than November.

 Which month do you recommend taking off to interview?

Interviews will be mid-November to February (west).

 Does your specialty recommend that all letters of recommendation be written by members of your specialty?

All letters should be from orthopaedic surgeons, including one from the chair and the program director (same letter).

 If letters can come from other disciplines, do you have a recommendation as to which disciplines are more highly valued?

I don’t recommend any other specialties write letters.

 Does the academic rank of the letter writer matter?

The rank of the letter writer is less important than the voracity with which the writer supports the candidate. Words like “must have” and “will actively seek to keep them in the program” are the key. So-so letters from the most famous or senior orthopaedic surgeons are not of benefit. As useless are letters saying “he/she rotated with me for one week on my service and seems to be a thoroughly adequate person who would do well in your residency program."

 Does your specialty require a letter from the chairman?

All letters should be from orthopaedic surgeons, including one from the chair and the program director (same letter).

 Orthopaedics Specialty Session - Winter / Residency Application Information

During the winter of the M3 year, students should attend specialty sessions sponsored by the Department of Orthopaedics to learn more about the specialty and meet attendings and residents in the field.

Request an Orthopaedics Adviser

Terry Peabody, MD
Chair, Department of Orthopaedic Surgery
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Kevin D. Hardt, MD
Orthopaedics Residency Program Director
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Latisha Emerson-Henderson
Residency Program Coordinator
Notary Public
Department of Orthopaedic Surgery

For More Information

Department of Orthopaedics
Northwestern University
Feinberg School of Medicine
Department of Orthopaedic Surgery
676 N. St. Clair, Suite 1350, Chicago, IL 60611
Phone: 312-926-4444
Fax: 312-926-4443