Is Sports Medicine Getting Short Shrift At The Schools?

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By Jeff Hall, Executive Editor

   Sports medicine reportedly drives a large number of folks to study podiatric medicine. However, it does not appear to be much of a priority at the majority of the podiatry schools. Only two schools offer a semester course in sports medicine in the third year. Virtually no residency program devotes significant time to sports medicine, according to one prominent podiatrist with an active sports medicine practice.

   A professor at one of the colleges bluntly sums up her school’s commitment to sports medicine: “We truck in an expert every couple of years to lecture about sports medicine and then we forget about it until next time.”

   Perhaps some of the schools could take a few cues from Barry University and the New York College of Podiatric Medicine (NYCPM). Both of these schools offer a full semester course in sports medicine in the third year that emphasizes real world application.

   In addition to providing care for their own NCAA division II teams, the folks at Barry University handle podiatric treatment for some teams from the University of Miami, the Kansas Jayhawks, the Miami Heat and the NBA Referees Association. They also have certified athletic trainers (ATCs) who work with students. As one Barry official puts it, “Students take part in the full spectrum of care for collegiate and professional athletes.” The school also sponsors the first sports medicine fellowship approved by the Council on Podiatric Medical Education.

   The sports medicine course at NYCPM is taught by in-house and guest faculty, comprised of podiatrists, orthopedic surgeons and primary care sports doctors, who are recognized as experts in their respective disciplines. As part of the third-year sports medicine course requirement, each student must serve as a medical volunteer for a specific number of sports events such as the New York City Marathon. In recent months, the school has revived a dedicated sports medicine clinic session that is staffed by expert faculty and equipped with state-of-the-art gait analysis equipment.

   Other schools have had different approaches. The California School of Podiatric Medicine cancelled its sports medicine course in 1999 despite faculty recommendations. It was reinstituted in May 2003 as a 15-hour weekend continuing education course with lectures, workshops, case presentations and video illustrations. The American Academy of Podiatric Sports Medicine also provides a full-day seminar of sports medicine topics at two colleges every year.

   There is some debate about whether a sports medicine course is a better option than having a series of guest lecturers on sports medicine. One prominent educator notes the majority of course content for “so-called sports medicine classes” is covered in trauma and biomechanics courses. A sports medicine proponent concedes there is an overlap. However, he emphasizes that a properly structured sports medicine course would pull all the information together in one experience, focusing on the literature on sports-specific injuries and discussing peripheral issues like performance enhancement and injury prevention.

    “Weekend courses are not enough,” sums up one well-known sports medicine lecturer. All of the schools should rededicate themselves to offering a semester course of sports medicine in the third year, emphasizing a multidisciplinary faculty and real world application of these skills in clinics. Structured fellowships in sports medicine are also a clear need area. Perhaps the schools can follow the lead of Barry University in this regard.

   As many podiatric educators point out, there is strong student interest in sports medicine. For many, podiatry represents a gateway into a sports medicine practice. Given the periodic downturns in enrollment, de-emphasizing sports medicine in the podiatry curriculum doesn’t seem to make a whole lot of sense.

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