Most of us grow up emulating sports figures or great athletes like Tiger Woods, Michael Jordan, or Peyton Manning. But once we put aside our aspirations to be just “like Mike,” we realize that pursuing a career in sports medicine is one great way to combine a love of sports with a career in medicine.
In podiatric medicine, a number of avenues are available to doctors to pursue both the love of sports and a degree in medicine. Many podiatrists, who practice sports medicine, for example, were once athletes, so they are familiar with the devastating effect an injury can have on an athlete. Many sports medicine podiatrists are also involved with teams on all levels, from high school teams to professional organizations.
Timothy Dutra, DPM, a podiatric physician who specializes in sports medicine in San Leandro, California, developed an early love for sports, participating in cross country, basketball, baseball, and tennis when he was in high school and continuing with tennis throughout college. This versatile athlete knew that he wanted to pursue a career in sports medicine, so he completed a graduate athletic training program after he finished his undergraduate degree. Dr. Dutra then attended the California College of Podiatric Medicine (CCPM), now the California School of Podiatric Medicine at Samuel Merritt College. For Dr. Dutra, his interest in sports medicine started early and never stopped.
Similarly, Perry Julien, DPM, of Atlanta, Georgia, spent his free time during college competing as an alpine ski racer, playing ice hockey and lacrosse, and working as an assistant athletic trainer. Dr. Julien was passionate about sports and committed to a career in sports medicine. After college, he applied to medical school to pursue his dream, but soon after changed his plans at the suggestion of his close friend Justin Wernick, DPM. It didn’t take long for Julien to realize that he had found his ideal career in sports medicine.
Chicago podiatric physician, Lowell Weil, Sr., DPM, has always been interested in sports medicine. He began his work in this area by volunteering with his local high school team when he first started practice. After a few years, Dr. Weil took care of a player from the Chicago Bears in his private practice. The player was thrilled with the care he received from Dr. Weil and consequently invited him to meet the Bears’ athletic trainer. One thing led to another, and the trainer asked Dr. Weil to observe the Bears during training camp. “I kept a very low-key approach and didn’t push my way in too much,” said Dr. Weil. “I just kind of answered questions when they asked me about different players, and I got to meet the founder of the Chicago Bears, George Halas, and really hit it off with him. Before I knew it, they asked me to start seeing players and be the team podiatrist for the Chicago Bears. That began a 25-year career with the Bears, including one Super Bowl.” Dr. Weil described his experience working with the Bears as a “great thrill.”
In trying to get a coveted job in any industry, including sports medicine, well-placed contacts like this can be very useful. Dr. Julien, for example, served many times as the assistant or co-medical director of sporting events, which put him in contact with Atlanta’s best sports medicine practitioners. Therefore, when it came time for orthopedic surgeon Scott Gillogly, MD, to pick a podiatrist to join his medical team in its bid to work with the National Hockey League’s Atlanta Thrashers, Dr. Julien was the obvious choice. Dr. Julien happily accepted Dr. Gillogly’s offer, and once the team won its bid, he became the podiatrist for one of his favorite sports teams. Dr. Julien also now works with the Atlanta Falcons.
Although being the podiatrist for a professional sports team certainly can be exciting and rewarding, it is by no means the only way to practice podiatric sports medicine. Earlier in his career, Dr. Dutra was the team podiatrist for the Golden State Warriors, but now he covers a younger and more varied group of athletes as one of two podiatrists for the University of California-Berkeley’s 27 teams. In addition, he has coached youth soccer, baseball, basketball, and tennis teams for the past 12 years. Dr. Dutra says, “I tend to specialize in youth sports injuries; that’s kind of my subspecialty in sports medicine, because I am around younger athletes a lot.” He has also worked with many high school sports teams, although recently he had to cut back on that when he accepted his position at Berkeley. “Most sports podiatrists treat runners,” he said. “That’s their big thing. But my practice is really diverse, because I see just about every type of sport. To me, that’s been very interesting. It’s been kind of a challenge.”
All the work these podiatrists do for their sports teams is in addition to having full-time private practices. But the time commitment required from each team varies by sport and by the team’s particular schedule. Dr. Weil attends every one of the Bears’ home games, and he travels with the team to certain games, including playoffs and one Super Bowl.
Dr. Dutra, by contrast, is not required to attend any games, unless his presence is specifically requested, as one might imagine about someone who cares for 27 sports teams. Dr. Dutra estimates that he spends approximately four to five hours per week in the sports medicine clinic at Berkeley treating athletes. Even though it is not required of him, Dr. Dutra tries to attend as many games as he can to support the athletes. In addition to coaching the players, Dr. Dutra evaluates his players onsite or on the field when they are injured. If he can, he will provide emergency treatment for the player on the field and send him or her to an emergency room if immediate follow-up is needed. “That’s one of the luxuries they have of me coaching; also, they kind of have a built-in trainer and team physician there, because most of the youth sports are lucky if the coaches know much about injuries,” said Dr. Dutra.
Regardless of how they got to where they are or what they’ve done, these podiatrists have all crafted their careers and, to some extent, their lives, around their passion for podiatric sports medicine, and that investment has really paid off. They are passionate about sports, and they pursue this work for one reason: They love it. “I’ve never looked back,” said Dr. Julien. “I think I’m going to do this as long as I can.”
Article excerpted from September 2005 APMA News (Sarah Riley)
Used with permission.
To discuss this article on the SDN Forums, please click here.