Students from four historically Black college and university medical schools will be selected for clinical rotations with NFL team medical staffs this year.
The joint program with the NFL Physicians Society (NFLPS) and Professional Football Athletic Trainer Society (PFATS) aims to diversify the pipeline in sports medicine, including at NFL clubs. It is open to medical students interested in primary care sports medicine and/or orthopedic surgery from Charles R. Drew University of Medicine and Science in Los Angeles; Howard University College of Medicine in Washington; Morehouse School of Medicine in Atlanta; and Meharry Medical College in Nashville, Tennessee.
"We always have students interested in orthopedic surgery and sports medicine, and this is an additional avenue," said Dr. Digna Forbes, the interim dean of the school of medicine at Meharry. "The more opportunities we have for these sub specialties, it will increase diversity in those. This is important.
"It's an opportunity to showcase our medical students; they have been going all over for these sub specialties, but with the NFL being so high profile, and to diversify the [medical] positions in the NFL, it would be great that the doctors treating them are also diverse."
A study that examines diversity of the medical student population shows Black medical students make up only 7.3% of the total in this country. That figure has risen less than 1 percentage point over the past 40 years and is far lower than the 13.4% Black population in the United States. The NFL has nearly 70% Black players.
A total of 16 total students will participate in the inaugural program, two students each at eight of the participating NFL clubs: the Falcons, Bengals, Chargers, Rams, Giants, 49ers, Titans and Commanders.
In 2023, the program will expand to recruit students from additional academic institutions and medical disciplines. They will be placed with medical staffs at more teams. The expansion next year will broaden to disciplines beyond primary care sports medicine and orthopedic surgery.
This season, though, students will work directly with and under the supervision of the orthopedic team physicians, primary care team physicians and athletic trainers to gain basic medical knowledge and exposure to patient care in sports medicine. They will learn return-to-play guidelines and on-field treatments for players. The opportunity to be on the sideline for observation during games is being considered.
"On the whole, a day would consist of a mixture of time with the athletic training staff, observing treatments and assessments and rehabilitation care," said Dr. Allen Sills, the NFL's chief medical officer. "They would also spend time with team physicians and learn how they diagnose and treat injury rehab. Perhaps they would attend a surgical procedure that involves an athlete. And then they would be attending a team practice.
"All of those elements allow them to appreciate what the entire athletic training staff does, how the medical team works together."
Sills notes that diversity is an issue throughout the entire realm of medicine. NFLPS president Timothy McAdams concurs.
"We have significant work to do to ensure that the NFLPS membership more closely mirrors the player population we treat every day," said McAdams, who is also the San Francisco 49ers' head physician. "It begins here, by broadening the pipeline and encouraging medical students from diverse backgrounds to consider the possibilities of a career in sports medicine."