Q: What is the NFL Diversity in Sports Medicine Pipeline Initiative?
A: The National Football League (NFL), NFL Physicians Society (NFLPS), and Professional Football Athletic Trainers Society (PFATS) are committed to increasing diversity in sports medicine. The NFL Diversity in Sports Medicine Pipeline Initiative was developed to encourage medical students from diverse backgrounds to consider sports medicine careers. Students from medical schools across the country are selected and invited to complete one-month clinical rotations with NFL clubs across the league.
During this rotation, students will observe and participate in the care of players in an NFL club setting. 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. Additionally, students will also become familiar with return-to-play guidelines and on-field treatment considerations for NFL athletes. Students may also have the opportunity to attend home games and be present on the sideline for observation. By the end of the rotation, students will understand the basic elements of all facets of care provided to an NFL athlete from an orthopedic, primary care sports medicine, and athletic training perspective.
Q: Which medical schools are involved?
A: The inaugural program for the 2022 season was comprised of students from the four Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU) medical schools: Charles R. Drew University of Medicine and Science, Howard University College of Medicine, Morehouse School of Medicine, and Meharry Medical College.
This year, 15 additional institutions are participating: Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine, Georgetown University School of Medicine, Michigan State University College of Human Medicine, Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, Sidney Kimmel Medical College-Jefferson Medical, Stanford University Medical School, University at Buffalo's Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, University of Kansas School of Medicine, University of Minnesota Medical School, University of Nevada Las Vegas School of Medicine, University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, University of South Carolina School of Medicine Greenville, McGovern Medical School at UTHealth Houston, University of Washington School of Medicine, and Wake Forest University School of Medicine.
Q: Why did the NFL, NFLPS and PFATS launch this initiative?
A: We know that diversity makes us stronger. Diverse medical students in-training, including those training to become sports medicine-focused physicians, are historically underrepresented.
A 2021 study that examines diversity of the medical student population, shows Black medical students comprise only 7.3 percent of the total medical school population in the U.S. – a figure that has risen less than 1 percent over the last 40 years and is far lower than the 13.4 percent Black population in the United States.
According to the Association of American Medical Colleges, enrollment of diverse students is increasing. During the 2022-23 academic year, "the number of Black or African American matriculants increased by 9%," and "matriculants who are Hispanic, Latino, or of Spanish origin increased by 4%," while "American Indian or Alaska Native matriculants declined by 9%." The NFL's Diversity in Sports Medicine Pipeline Initiative is expanding to provide more students with an interest in sports medicine exposure and opportunities in the field.
Additionally, it is well-established in scientific and medical literature that diverse medical staff lead to improved patient outcomes, and our organizations are committed to providing world-class care for our players. This initiative is part of a long-term effort to help broaden the pipeline of diverse medical professionals entering the field of sports medicine.
According to the NFLPS, 86 percent of their membership identify as white, 8 percent identify as Asian, 5 percent identify as Black and 1 percent identify as Hispanic. According to PFATS, 65 percent of their membership identify as white, 23 percent identify as Black, 8 percent identify as Hispanic and 4 percent identify as Asian.
Q: Who will the medical students work with during their clinical rotation?
A: Students will work directly with the orthopedic team physicians, primary care team physicians, athletic trainers and other members of the club medical staff to gain basic medical knowledge and exposure to patient care in sports medicine.
Q: Are there plans to create similar programs to engage other underrepresented groups in the NFL medical community?
A: Yes. The program has grown from the inaugural season to 2023, doubling the number of participating medical students and increasing participating medical schools and NFL clubs.
In future years, the pipeline initiative will broaden to disciplines beyond primary care sports medicine and orthopedic surgery. Some of the roles that may be included are physician assistants, certified athletic trainers, physical therapists, occupational therapists, nutritionists and behavioral health clinicians.