Sports medicine offers many career options for professionals passionate about medicine, health, and the optimization of the human body. Graduates of an online master’s in sports medicine degree can work in physical therapy, chiropractic, athletic training, or exercise physiology. According to PayScale, the average salary for a graduate of a master’s in sports medicine earns an average salary of $54,000, and the Bureau of Labor Statistics projects job growth of 13% and 28% for exercise physiologists and physical therapists respectively by 2026.
In this guide, we compiled useful information on earning an online master’s in sports medicine, including what you can learn, what careers you can pursue, and how much you can make after earning this degree.
Students attending an online master’s in sports medicine study advanced coursework in anatomy, physiology, kinesiology, and exercise systems. They learn to develop plans for injury rehabilitation and strength training, studying sports psychology techniques to help athletes recover mentally.
The typical master’s in sports medicine requires 33-42 credit hours. Learners can generally earn these credits over two to three years of full-time study. Online courses are often offered asynchronously, meaning distance learners can complete them at their own pace without participating in virtual classroom sessions. This may allow online learners to complete classes more quickly. On-campus programs, on the other hand, are often attended with an established cohort of students who proceed at the same pace.
Learners pursuing a sports medicine degree can expect each program to require a combination of core coursework in the foundations of sports medicine and elective options to enhance subject-specific expertise. While course offerings and concentration options differ greatly by school, the following list outlines five classes students commonly encounter while earning their degree.
This class studies the psychological, social, and environmental factors that play into injury and recovery in athletes and the general population. Students examine patient reaction to injury as well as their compliance with rehabilitation programs and learn techniques to facilitate compliance and recovery.
Functional anatomy applies the basic understanding of gross anatomy to human body movement, examining how muscles flex and contract to produce motion. This course emphasizes muscle anatomy and how each muscle’s nerve innervation and blood supply function while studying factors that can impede their health.
A foundational course in sports medicine programs, exercise science studies the physiological principles of exercise. Learners memorize human body systems, including cardiovascular and neuromuscular systems, so they better understand body movement, composition, energy expenditure, and performance.
Students enrolled in Nutrition and Health learn the dietary requirements of the human body, from average individuals to athletes. Much of the course covers physiological aspects of nutrition and how nutrients affect the body.
This advanced course teaches students to design exercise programs. Learners gain the knowledge to create specialized programs based on client abilities and goals and learn how to objectively assess the success of their programs. The curriculum covers a combination of exercise, behavioral, and injury-prevention techniques.
The requirements for a final exam or capstone vary by school, but students can typically expect some concluding project or exam that asks them to demonstrate their knowledge. In many cases, learners can choose between a thesis or non-thesis track. Those who choose a non-thesis track need to take a comprehensive final exam or complete a professional internship in place of the thesis research project. In a few schools, students can also choose between a practicum project, internship, or research paper.
As the field of sports medicine is quite broad, many programs offer specializations within their department. Students who know they want to pursue a particular career may benefit from selecting a relevant concentration and tailoring their coursework. While concentration options differ by school, three sample specializations are outlined below.
A specialization in geriatrics prepares students to work with aging populations. Its concentrated coursework studies physiological and psychosocial aspects of aging and examines how to develop and assess exercise plans for injured or ill elderly patients. This track also analyzes how exercise and nutrition can positively impact health as humans age.Corrective Exercise and Orthopedic Rehabilitation
Students concentrating on corrective exercise science complete advanced coursework in human movement, injuries and diseases, and movement dysfunction. They also learn to develop rehabilitation programs for inpatient and outpatient settings.Coaching Education
A specialization in coaching education is perfect for entry-level and experienced coaches who want to advance their coaching skills. The concentration focuses on coaching techniques, performance enhancement, and athletic training. In addition to learning leadership skills, students also examine instructional techniques and motivation tactics.
Earning a master’s degree in sports medicine can be an important step in your career. Due to the variety of available positions, students can tailor their employment to work with the population they are passionate about in a work environment they enjoy. The list below introduces five possible career paths that sports medicine graduate students often pursue, though earning a degree does not guarantee a job. Many sports medicine positions require not only a graduate education, but additional training and certification in the specific field of practice. Read on for more information.
Athletic trainers specialize in preventing, diagnosing, and rehabilitating their patients to full activity, often working with a physician to provide comprehensive care. Trainers work with athletes at multiple levels, from students to professional sports teams. In some cases, athletic trainers may also find employment in hospitals, law enforcement, or military agencies. Athletic trainers need a bachelor’s degree at minimum, though a master’s degree requirement is becoming more common.
Exercise physiologists work with ill and injured patients to develop rehabilitative exercise programs that improve their health. They focus on improving disease symptoms, increasing strength and flexibility, and providing useful health education to their patients. The majority of states do not require exercise physiologists to earn more than a bachelor’s degree before working, but a master’s degree often increases salary and employment prospects and prepares students for several available credentialing options that further confirm their qualifications.
Fitness trainers, also known as personal trainers, work with individuals and groups to enhance cardiovascular health and improve strength and conditioning. They demonstrate proper technique, provide motivation, and monitor client progress. Fitness trainers work with people of all ages and skill levels. Though not required, most employers seek out trainers with a minimum of a bachelor’s degree in a related field and a personal training certification. A master’s degree may result in higher salary and the ability to work with specialized populations.
Physical therapists work with patients to provide rehabilitation services for chronic pain, injury, and illness. They diagnose movement dysfunction and develop specialized plans for recovery. Physical therapists may specialize in working with different populations or different injury types. Becoming a physical therapist requires earning a doctorate in physical therapy and then passing a national examination for licensure. Earning a master’s in sports medicine first provides ample preparation for completing the specialized doctoral program.
Professional organizations within the field of sports medicine can provide enormous benefits to current students and recent graduates. Professional organizations connect specialists and students with mentors and give members access to continuing education opportunities, conferences, career services, and job boards.
AMSSM provides a professional forum specifically for non-surgical sports medicine physicians. It focuses on education and research in the advancement of patient care in sports medicine.
ACSM is the largest organization in sports medicine, and it works to ensure positive patient outcomes. The organization facilitates networking between sports medicine professionals and assists members in pursuing professional development courses and certifications.
The American Sports Medicine Institute, a nonprofit organization focused on education and research in sports medicine, educates its members on the prevention and treatment of sport-related injuries. ASMI trains physicians and medical specialists and conducts extensive clinical research.
NASM offers personal training education and certification based on evidence-based scientific research. Trainers who gain certification through NASM receive access to a job board, discounts on educational resources and apparel, and networking and referral opportunities.
The National Athletic Trainers’ Association fosters the continued growth of the athletic training profession. Members of NASM can access the organization’s job board, continuing education opportunities, and an online professional forum for networking and sharing information.
Due to the variety of available careers within the field of sports medicine, salary expectations depend on training and industry. The following chart outlines the salary expectations and job outlook for the four careers detailed above.
|Job Title||Lowest 10% Earned Annually||Median Annual Salary||Highest 10% Earned Annually||Job Growth 2016-2026|
|Athletic Trainer||Less than $30,740||$46,630||More than $69,530||+23%|
|Exercise Physiologist||Less than $34,250||$49,090||More than $78,410||+13%|
|Fitness Trainer and Instructor||Less than $19,640||$39,210||More than $74,520||+10%|
|Physical Therapist||Less than $59,080||$86,850||More than $122,650||+28%|
Typically, earning a more advanced degree generates higher earning potential. According to the Center on Education and the Workforce, students who earn their bachelor’s degree in health and medical preparatory programs earn an average salary of $54,000, as opposed to the $128,000 that can be earned by those with a graduate degree. While these statistics take into consideration other medical programs, a master’s in sports medicine opens the door to more advanced career options that often compensate well.
Choosing an accredited program is an important part of the school selection process. School accreditation indicates quality upon examination by accrediting agencies approved by the Department of Education and the Council on Higher Education Accreditation. Regional accreditation is awarded to academically-driven colleges and universities; national accreditation is typically reserved for technical and vocational schools. Online programs are held to the same standards for accreditation as on-campus programs.
Students should also consider if their program needs to be programmatically accredited. Programmatic accreditation indicates that the program’s specific curriculum sufficiently prepares for future professional certifications and employment in the field. While not all online sports medicine degrees earn programmatic accreditation, some do. For example, the Commission on Accreditation of Athletic Training Education accredits sports medicine programs emphasizing athletic training. Research each school and your future career goals to see if your program needs specific accreditation to prepare you for further education, certification examinations, or licensing.
Undertaking a graduate degree necessitates a significant financial investment. Many online students work while completing their degree to offset the cost, but several additional financing avenues are also available. The following list outlines four major sources of funding that students can pursue to assist in paying for their degree.
Every student pursuing higher education should fill out a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). Most learners at the undergraduate and graduate levels are eligible for some federal aid, including loans, grants, and work-study options.
Some professional organizations supply scholarship opportunities to assist in advancing student members’ sports medicine education. Students should research organizations that focus on their particular field of study and inquire about available scholarships. For example, the ACSM offers a scholarship to members specifically studying the health benefits of physical activity.
Many states, districts, and areas provide subject-specific scholarships for their residents. For example, the Mark Connolly Memorial Master’s Scholarship is available for graduate students studying sports medicine in Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Rhode Island. These state and area scholarships focus on attracting students to study and work in places with dire need for sports medicine professionals.
Some scholarships are specifically available for minorities earning their master’s in sports medicine. The Minority Scholarship through the National Strength and Conditioning Association, for instance, goes to African-American, Asian American, Native American, and Hispanic students pursuing graduate studies in strength and conditioning. Similar scholarships are also available for other specific populations, like women or single parents.