The four historically Black medical colleges in the U.S. will supply eight NFL teams with students for monthlong clinical rotations during the 2022 season as part of an initiative to increase the number of Black team physicians and medical professionals in the league.
The NFL Diversity in Sports Medicine Pipeline Initiative, announced Tuesday by the league, the NFL Physicians Society and the Professional Football Athletic Trainer Society, will start with two students per team. One student will be assigned to primary care medicine, the other to orthopedic surgery. All the students in the program’s first year will come from Howard University College of Medicine, Morehouse School of Medicine, Meharry Medical College and Charles Drew University of Medicine and Science.
The NFL plans to expand the initiative next year to Black students from all medical colleges and to include all 32 teams, the league’s chief medical officer, Dr. Allen Sills, said on a media conference call Tuesday.
Dr. Sills cited a study published in October 2021 in the Orthopaedic Journal of Sports Medicine that said 86 percent of physicians and 65 percent of athletic trainers on NFL teams identify as white.
“As organizations, we’ve come together to say this is an issue we want to address, that we want to be thought leaders in and that we want to put together programs that can constructively address the pipeline for making a change in the climate that we see today,” he said.
Dr. Lisa Barkley, chair of the Department of Family Medicine and director of the residency program at Charles Drew University, spoke about the importance of “having sports medicine providers who look like the patients, the athletes that they’re serving, who can relate and talk about some of the impacts of social factors on overall health.”
Also, she said of the students, “It’s important to see other providers who look like you, and having that exposure is very important in this field of sports medicine, because a lot of it is the opportunity that you have to cover a team or to be exposed to sports.”