Greater diversity in sports medicine has the potential to improve athlete health

By Dr. Lisa Barkley, Associate Dean for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion at Charles R. Drew University and Dr. Timothy McAdamsSan Francisco 49ers team chief medical officer

As the National Football League embarks on another exciting season, players are once again relying on their club’s medical staff to provide medical care and advice to stay healthy throughout the season. But this year, in addition to their clinical care, these club doctors and athletic trainers are also helping train medical students at Historically Black College and University (HBCU) medical schools across the United States, as the league supports efforts to diversify the sports medicine profession.

There is a continuing lack of racial/ethnic diversity among sports physicians and the medical profession in the United States generally. In a 2021 study, 84.5% of doctors on American professional sports teams identified as white, while 8.4% identified as Asian, 5.8% identified as black, and 1.3% identified as Hispanic/Latino. Data from the American Association of Medical Colleges in 2021 shows that black students make up just 11.3% of the total medical school population in the United States, and Hispanic/Latino students make up 12.7%. These figures have changed very little over the past 40 years.

We believe that improving diversity among physicians on the professional team has the potential to positively impact patient outcomes and experience. That’s why the NFL, National Football League Physicians Society (NFLPS), and Professional Football Athletic Trainers Society (PFATS) are working together to create a pipeline to expose diverse medical students to the field of sports medicine. This NFL season, 14 students from the country’s four HBCU medical schools will be integrated into NFL club medical staff as the inaugural class of the NFL Diversity in Sports Medicine Pipeline initiative.

The goal of this program is to expose medical students at HBCU medical schools to sports medicine mentors through clinical rotations with NFL teams. This experience will provide these students with the opportunity to work directly with team physicians and athletic trainers, observe and participate in the care of NFL players, and form lasting professional relationships with leaders in the field of sports medicine. By the end of the rotation, students will understand the basics of all facets of professional athlete care and have a network of mentors that will last well beyond their month-long clinical rotations. We believe this pipeline approach solves a key fundamental problem – the lack of access to professional sports medicine mentors – and can be replicated by other sports leagues and in medical settings more broadly.

The NFL, its clubs, the PFATS, the NFLPS and the HBCU’s four medical schools are all working together to close the diversity gap in sports medicine – not just because it’s the right thing to do, but because it’s the right thing to do. ‘they make sure the NFL’s medical staff reflects the diversity we see in the league’s playing population can be life changing for players and medical professionals. We see this as an opportunity to lead and have a real and direct impact on patient care among professional athletes and the broader medical community.

The NFL Diversity in Sports Medicine Pipeline initiative is not a one-time one-year program, but an ongoing and sustained commitment and will therefore have lasting effects. As the first class of students arrives at NFL clubs, we are thrilled to see this program come to life and look forward to the bright future of the program, player care and sports medicine far beyond. of the NFL.

Dr. Lisa Barkley is Chair of the Department of Family Medicine and Associate Dean for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion at Charles R. Drew University. She specializes in family, adolescent, and primary care sports medicine and is currently the Diversity Administrator for the American College of Sports Medicine.

Dr. Timothy McAdams is a clinical professor in the Department of Orthopedic Surgery at Stanford University, specializing in sports medicine. He is the San Francisco 49ers’ team physician and president of the NFL Physicians Society.

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