Jefferson University student chosen for NFL Program seeking to diversify sports medicine pipeline

Working with trained professionals at the team facilities, students will observe and participate in the care of the NFL players.

Joel Sacris,

Joel Sacris, a 4th-year medical student at Sidney Kimmel Medical College at Jefferson University, has been chosen for the NFL Diversity in Sports Medicine Pipeline program. He will do a one-month rotation with the NY Jets Medical team. (Submitted Photo)

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As a fourth-year medical student at Sidney Kimmel Medical College at Jefferson University, Joel Sacris’ goal is to have a family medical practice with an emphasis on sports medicine.

Sacris, who is 26 and of Filipino descent, said that many communities like the one he grew up in Chicago are underserved by doctors who look like them.

That is why Sacris said he is excited to be among students from 21 medical schools chosen to be a part of the National Football League’s (NFL) Diversity in Sports Medicine Pipeline Initiative.

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In 2022, the NFL created the initiative, along with the NFL Physicians Society ((NFLPS) and the Professional Football Athletic Trainers Society (PFATS), to create a more diverse pipeline of students interested in sports medicine and eventually diversify NFL medical staffs.

Like the other medical students, Sacris will do a one-month rotation from August to September with an NFL club, in his case, the New York Jets.

“I want to be the person who is helping people better their lives, helping them find a track to better health and be able to walk that journey with them,” Sacris told WHYY News. “I found a great love of sports medicine. I played sports growing up, baseball and soccer. I really want to use my training as a doctor, in order to help athletes at all levels, high school, college or potentially professional.”

Sacris is also interested in performance arts medicine, such as treating injuries related to dance. In addition to family medicine, he would like to split his time working for a dance troupe; or on the sidelines for a high school, college or professional sports team.

Sacris wants to work with underserved communities, focusing on preventative care such as diet and exercise.

At the team facilities, students will observe and participate in the care of the NFL players. They will work directly with and under the supervision of team physicians, athletic trainers, dietitians, mental health professionals, strength and fitness coaches and equipment managers.

“Sidney Kimmel Medical College is committed to training future generations of the healthcare workforce that is reflective and responsive to the communities we serve,” said Dr. Said Ibrahim, the Anthony F. and Gertrude M. DePalma Dean at the medical school. “Therefore, we are glad to partner once again with NFL in this important educational mission.”

When the NFL created the program, it cited research that showed that a more diverse medical staff, especially doctors, often translates into better medical outcomes for their patients. In 2023, more than half of NFL players were African American.

Several of those chosen for the program are students at medical schools that are Historically Black College and Universities (HBCUs), such as Charles R. Drew University of Medicine and Science in Los Angeles; Howard University College of Medicine in Washington, D.C.; Meharry Medical College in Nashville and Morehouse School of Medicine in Atlanta.

In a statement, Dr. Allen Sills, chief medical officer of the NFL said, “The NFL and clubs across the league are excited to welcome this year’s class of medical students and offer them the unique opportunity to complete clinical rotations with NFL club medical staffs. We have an impressive group of participants joining us from a growing roster of medical schools this season as we continue our efforts to bring interested diverse and underrepresented medical students into the sports medicine pipeline.”

By the end of the rotation, Sacris and the other medical students are expected to have become familiar with return-play protocols, such as those for concussions and on-field treatment.

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Since the NFL expanded the program league-wide last season, it was also developed a “Team Behind the Team” program for behavioral health clinicians, certified athletic trainers, nutritionists, physician assistants and physical therapists.

Kyra Caldwell, a Howard University College of Medicine student described the program as a lifelong dream. She has been placed with the New England Patriots. A former Ivy League track star, Caldwell suffered a hamstring injury in college, but made a comeback due to the medical care she received from the school’s team doctors and trainers.

“I am excited to be on the other side of the field, caring for athletes and getting them back in motion,” Caldwell said in a statement. “Coming from an underserved but tight-knit community of Ypsilanti, Mich. I understand that there is a diversity in the quality of care in communities like mine.”

This program should help her to bridge that gap, she said.

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