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Friday Night Lights: Medical Care on the Sidelines

Team HEAL and Cedars-Sinai’s Orthopaedic Specialists Provide Pro-Level Sports Medicine to High School Teams in Underserved Communities During Championship Games

For many high school football athletes who play on teams in underserved communities, access to athletic trainers or a licensed physician is a rarity but Cedars-Sinai Kerlan-Jobe Institute Surgeon and Team HEAL (Helping Enrich Athletes' Lives) Founder, Clarence Shields Jr., MD, has been working on a prescription to even that playing field.

Shields, a former Los Angeles Rams team doctor, founded Team HEAL in 1995 when he saw a need to provide high school athletes in underserved communities with the necessary resources to pursue sports safely, emphasizing injury prevention and elite sports medical care.

Clarence Shields, MD “I started Team HEAL because we needed to level the playing field in terms of medical care for the underserved community,” said Shields. “The purpose of Team HEAL then and now is to provide medical care with a doctor on the field as well as a certified athletic trainer at high schools.”

Those doctors on the field are Cedars-Sinai Orthopaedic Surgery residents and Cedars-Sinai Kerlan-Jobe Institute Sports Neurology fellows who work in collaboration with the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) athletic trainers at: Carson High STEAM School, Crenshaw High School STEMM Magnet, Phineas Banning Senior High School, Susan Miller Dorsey Senior High School and Westchester Enriched Sciences Magnets.

Through Team HEAL’s multidisciplinary approach, student-athletes receive a similar kind of support as professional athletes.

“Our role here is to help provide orthopaedic care for the athletes when they sustain injuries,” said fourth-year orthopaedic resident, Evan Nigh, MD. “That includes evaluating players when they are injured, providing treatment and helping manage their care after their injury.”

The Team HEAL strategy appears to help teams accumulate wins. Indeed, two of the five schools participating in Team HEAL made it to championship games this season.

Cedars-Sinai Orthopaedic residents provide medical coverage at every home football game for the LAUSD schools that Team HEAL covers.

“It's a great experience just being out here at the game and watching the players and interacting with them,” said Nigh. “But really, it's getting the opportunity to apply our training and all our knowledge in real life situations outside of the workplace.”

Along with medical care, each school has a full-time certified athletic trainer and a fully equipped rehabilitation room. The athletic trainers teach the young athletes how to avoid getting hurt, help them recover from common injuries such as sprains and strains, and provide information about careers in healthcare.

“The L.A. Unified School District athletic trainers and the Cedar-Sinai residents work together in the capacity of a sports medicine team,” said Alejandra Merriman, certified athletic trainer, Susan Miller Dorsey Senior High School. “If an athlete is injured during the game, I would run out onto the field and call over a resident to help me, if needed, in the evaluation.”

But the athletes aren’t the only ones who benefit – Team HEAL serves as an educational opportunity for the orthopaedic residents. Those interested in pursuing a career in sports medicine can receive hands-on experience.

“This partnership between Team HEAL and the orthopaedic residents is mutually beneficial,” said  James Tibone, MD, co-director of Sports Medicine at Cedars-Sinai. "The residents have an opportunity to gain sideline experience that they would not otherwise have while the Team HEAL athletic trainers get to have an MD on their sidelines, increasing the quality of care they are able to provide.”  

Read more on the Cedars-Sinai Blog: Champions for Young Athletes