April 19, 2002

Sports Medicine athletic trainers back in classroom…as teachers

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From left, dietetic interns Jaime Fountain, Wendy Causey and Staci Edwards, and Brian Lishawa, Vanderbilt medical student, participate in a video conference focusing on diets with patients with diabetes. The class is a community outreach program combining medical and nutrition education in rural Tennessee counties. (photos by Dana Johnson)

Sports Medicine athletic trainers back in classroom…as teachers

Vanderbilt’s Sports Medicine Center is sponsoring an outreach program, sending certified athletic trainers (ATCs) to help athletes at area high schools.

“We have 12 certified athletic trainers that spend half their day at area high schools, and the rest of their day here for clinic,” said Mike Gerlach, an ATC at the Sports Medicine Center. “We can provide any type of athletic coverage needed, ranging from school teams to rehabilitation of various sports injuries. We also have satellite clinics in Paris, Tenn., Martin, Tenn., and Mayfield, Ky., where our trainers also help out with local high schools.”

Certified athletic trainers are trained experts in preventing, recognizing, managing and rehabilitating injuries that result from physical activity. They work under the direction of a licensed physician and must complete an athletic training curriculum accredited by the National Athletic Trainers’ Association (NATA) or the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP). The American Medical Association recognizes athletic training as an allied health care profession and recommends that each high school have an ATC on staff.

“There is a huge need for athletic trainers in our high schools that isn’t being met,” said Victor LeDoux, director of Vanderbilt Sports Medicine. “Very few high schools actually have an athletic trainer. So when Chancellor Gee came on board and wanted Vanderbilt to reassert itself as a leader in the community, we saw this as an opportunity for us to do our part. We went out to the local high schools since many of our patients come from there.

“At these schools, we encountered coaches who were really committed to providing the optimal environment for their kids. But at the same time, few actually recognized the importance and benefit of having an athletic trainer to work with their athletes. Many schools were also on tight budgets, preventing them from hiring an athletic trainer.”

LeDoux’s goal is to make their health services affordable and available to all local high schools. The types of services rendered to each school are determined on an individual basis, so that a customized program can be developed that best fits the needs of that particular school.

“Each athletic trainer is assigned to only one high school, so he or she can really get to know those athletes well,” said LeDoux. “Our first priority is to provide excellent medical care for those athletes. Second, the athletic trainer can also provide a unique mentoring relationship that is very different from that of a coach or peer athlete.”

The ATCs at Vanderbilt also work closely with the four Vanderbilt team physicians at the Sports Medicine Center. They are Dr. Kurt P. Spindler, associate professor of Orthopaedics and Rehabilitation, Dr. Eric C. McCarty, assistant professor of Orthopaedics and Rehabilitation, Dr. Andrew Gregory, assistant professor of Orthopaedics and Rehabilitation and Pediatrics, and Dr. Kelly Richter, assistant professor of Orthopaedics and Rehabilitation. These team physicians work exclusively with Vanderbilt athletes and patients at the Sports Medicine Center.

Besides its clinical services, the Sports Medicine Center is also committed to finding new and better ways to treat injuries through research. For example, McCarty is studying new ways to perform minimally invasive surgery and how to use new technology in his practice. One focus in particular is on repairing cartilage defects using grafts. Other ongoing projects at Sports Medicine are outcomes-based studies, which follow the progress of patients who have received particular procedures.

“We have an aging population and our athletes are getting older,” McCarty said. “It’s important that we do research and use current technology to help our patients return to sports, whether they are a marathon runner or recreational gardener. We want to do everything we can to help people return to an active lifestyle.”

The Vanderbilt Sports Medicine Center is the most comprehensive sports medicine service in Middle Tennessee. The state-of-the-art facility treats all athletic injuries and specializes in knee and shoulder injuries for all types of athletes. Sports Medicine is located at 2601 Jess Neely Drive across from the Vanderbilt football stadium.