Dr. Nailah Coleman (pictured here) whetted our appetite for sports medicine in an earlier post. Here's more:
My last blog post ended with my life-changing decision to venture out of my known, and completely indoor, world and into the field of sports medicine, literally. It was a decision that came easily; however, its the application that was a little more difficult.
Like many who have a defined goal in mind, I pursued it with enthusiasm. I immediately searched online for fellowship positions and applications and had everything in the mail within weeks of my meeting with our sports pediatrician. Unfortunately, enthusiasm was not enough. As they often say, “Knowledge is power.” It pains me to admit it but at that time my sports medical knowledge was sadly lacking and this became a barrier on my applications.
It might sound silly to think about needing knowledge to apply to learn about a topic, so I will take a little detour into the general process for becoming a primary care sports medicine specialist. It is then that you will see that my path was decidedly different.
At this time primary care sports medicine is a subspecialty, meaning that it requires its providers to have completed a primary care residency before obtaining further training. Fortunately for me, pediatrics is one of several primary care specialties that can lead to a sports medicine certificate of added qualification (i.e. board certification). The most common primary care specialty that leads to sports medicine is family medicine. Other less frequent, although the numbers are increasing, specialties include internal medicine, physical medicine and rehabilitation, and emergency medicine.
Although it is not absolutely necessary at this time, fellowship training in sports medicine is increasingly recommended and sought. Depending on your primary specialty, sports medicine fellowships may be hard to come by. For example, there are relatively few pediatric sports medicine fellowships offered per year. The most fellowship positions are available to family medicine, as they have the most general practitioners who are also sports trained; however, many programs only offer one or two positions per training year. The limited offerings make the application process very competitive. Those with previous sports medicine experience (ex. rotations, case presentations, etc.) are looked upon with favor.
This brings me back to my chosen route to sports medicine. As my first exposure to sports medicine was at a case conference and as my applications went out a few weeks later, my applications were missing that vital piece of information that all future employers seek: ability. Although my enthusiasm was evident and I was obviously a capable physician, I had not demonstrated any experience, or even exposure, to sports medicine. Even as a young athlete, I was always healthy and never had an injury. Without that important finding on my applications, program directors were hesitant to accept me. How did they know how I would do? Would I be a credit to their program? Would I contribute to the field? I was a blank slate.
Fortunately for me, while on my few interviews, I received some great advice, which I took and which I will give to you. While in medical school and residency, pursue your interest with passion and visibility. In sports medicine find your local team physician and sports medicine practitioner and get involved. Go to the games and stand on the sidelines. Volunteer to help with pre-participation physical evaluations and mass events, like running events and races. Shadow someone in clinic, so you can observe the day-to-day activities. Join the medical associations and attend their conferences -- many have discounted fees for trainees. The important thing is to get involved.
Amazingly, over the next year after my not matching, I followed that advice, got involved, and matched in a family medicine sports medicine program in Georgia. My feet barely touched the ground on that Match Day. I was finally on my way to my new life.