Becoming a Pro-sports Team Physician

You were a sports jock in high school and college. Scouts were lining up to see you play. You weren’t the phenom that was Lebron James back in high school. But you could have made it to the 2nd or 3rd round of the NBA draft. But alas, it won’t be as a knee injury prevented a career in professional basketball.

All is not lost as you went on to finish one of your passions as well. You became a family doctor with a private practice in South Jordan.

But you still miss playing, and sometimes you wish you could be around the game, not as a player but in another capacity. You’ve been talking to some people in a couple of universities, and professional sports teams. You want to become a team physician. How does one become a sports team physician?

Here are some ideas to consider:

Your Background

Having finished a medical degree with specialization will help you get the job. But you would probably still need more. A sub-specialization in sports medicine would be an advantage.

Your primary emphasis as a team physician and sports medicine practitioner is to prevent and treat injuries related to the performance of a specific sport. You will also focus on how to enhance an athlete’s movement and technique while playing their sport. For example, it could be finding a way to adjust the arm swing during a tennis serve.

As a team physician, you will also work with other medical practitioners like nurses, nutritionists, and physical therapists as well as other professionals like trainers and occupational therapists. The median salary of a team physician is around $230,000 (2019).

physical therapist helping the elderly

Getting In

There is no specific pathway. It’s still the job of the professional sports team’s front office to look for the right physician. But there are things that you could do to enhance your chances.

  1. License. State licensure is required if you’re going to be a team physician. In the NFL, completing a fellowship in Sports Medicine will help your credentials.
  2. Finding the opportunity. Some physicians find their way in professional teams because the opportunity was there. A casual conversation with an old colleague led to a discussion about joining his team. If you are going to be proactive in your search to be part of the professional locker room, then you need to network. Meet people in and around the professional league. Build your LinkedIn profile so that it matches the requirements of the sports industry.
  3. Work as an orthopedic surgeon. Establish a private practice that focuses on treating patients with hand, foot, and ankle or spine injuries, among others. This will allow you to build your track record for when you want to put your credentials on the radar of professional teams.
  4. Know the sports. Know the athletes. As a doctor, you understand how each muscle and bone work. To treat an injury, you must also understand the sport and the risk factors for sustaining injuries. Basketball is a semi-contact sport with high risks of sustaining foot and knee injury. Football players have head and shoulder injuries.

It might be a tough journey to get into professional teams if you’ve decided midway into year medical practice. But you can still network and build your credentials.

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