FAQ: NFL Diversity in Sports Medicine Pipeline Initiative

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 and have developed a new program to encourage medical students from diverse backgrounds to consider sports medicine careers. This project, known as the "NFL Diversity in Sports Medicine Pipeline Initiative," entails working with the four HBCU medical schools (Charles R. Drew University of Medicine and Science, Howard University College of Medicine, Morehouse School of Medicine, and Meharry Medical College) to identify and select students who will do clinical rotations with an NFL club in order to expose them to the medical staffs of NFL teams.

Eight NFL clubs have been chosen to host a total of 16 HBCU medical students for one-month rotations in September 2022 or October 2022. Each NFL club (Atlanta Falcons, Cincinnati Bengals, LA Chargers, LA Rams, NY Giants, San Francisco 49ers, Tennessee Titans, and Washington Commanders) will host a total of two medical students, one interested in Primary Care/Sports Medicine and the other in Orthopedic Surgery.

During this rotation, students will observe and participate in the care of sports medicine patients 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 the NFL athlete. 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 the professional NFL athlete from an orthopedic, primary care sports medicine, and athletic training perspective.

Q: Which medical schools are involved?

A: This project entails working with the four HBCU medical schools: Charles R. Drew University of Medicine and Science, Howard University College of Medicine, Morehouse School of Medicine, and Meharry Medical College.

Q: Which NFL clubs are involved?

A: Eight NFL clubs are participating in the inaugural year of the NFL Diversity in Sports Medicine Pipeline Initiative in 2022: Atlanta Falcons, Cincinnati Bengals, LA Chargers, LA Rams, NY Giants, San Francisco 49ers, Tennessee Titans, and Washington Commanders. We expect to expand the number of clubs hosting students during the 2023 season and beyond.

Q: Why are the NFL, NFLPS and PFATS launching this initiative?

A: We know that diversity makes us stronger. 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.

A 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 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: How are the students chosen?

A: Each school has established its own evaluation criteria for identifying students to participate in the program.

Q: Are there plans to create similar programs to engage other underrepresented groups in the NFL medical community?

A: Yes. While the inaugural season of this program is focused on providing Black medical students with exposure to careers in sports medicine, the NFL, NFLPS and PFATS will also work toward widening the sports medicine pipeline for other people of color and women in the seasons ahead.

Additionally, the expansion of this pipeline initiative in 2023 will broaden to disciplines beyond primary care sports medicine and orthopedic surgery. Some of the roles that may be included are physicians assistants, certified athletic trainers, physical therapists, occupational therapists, nutritionists and behavioral health clinicians.