UCLA Health sports medicine physicians: How caring for the pros benefits everyday patients
Professional sports organizations demand the best when it comes to caring for the health of their players. That is something everyday patients also want when choosing their own care providers.
With UCLA Health doctors serving as lead and team physicians for some of the most elite pro franchises in the country — the Los Angeles Lakers (men’s basketball), Los Angeles Dodgers (baseball) and Los Angeles Sparks (women’s basketball) — UCLA Health patients can have access to the best of both worlds.
UCLA orthopaedic surgeon Kristofer Jones, MD, is head team physician for the Lakers.
“Professional sports teams need the resources of a comprehensive health care institution that can handle a large group of people who require concierge care,” Dr. Jones said. “Not only do we have top sports medicine physicians, we also have top cardiologists, top pulmonologists and top infectious disease specialists to address the full spectrum of their needs.”
For patients, that translates into the confidence of knowing that their UCLA Health physicians are at the top of their fields.
“With the resources of a team like the Lakers, there are advanced treatments I can use for their players. Having that knowledge and experience working with professional athletes enables me to then apply those treatments to patients in my UCLA practice,” said Dr. Jones. “The patients love that because they are working with a doctor who has expertise through experience that many other physicians have not had access to.”
It’s a balancing act
Balancing the demands of delivering day-to-day clinical care with those of meeting the sometimes extraordinary needs of professional athletes can be challenging, said UCLA Health sports medicine specialist Marissa Vasquez, MD, who also serves as the lead physician for the Dodgers. Dr. Vasquez is the first female lead physician in the history of the Dodgers franchise, as well as the first woman of color to be a lead physician in Major League Baseball.
“I have a lot on my plate all the time,” Dr. Vasquez said. “I have to be very meticulous about scheduling.”
UCLA Health orthopaedic surgeon Sharon Hame, MD, said juggling hospital and team duties often boils down to one word: “Traffic.”
“It can be tough after a long day that runs into the evening to then have to get on the freeway to make it to the arena downtown to work with the professional athletes,” said Dr. Hame, who is team physician for the Sparks.
“Looking at my practice as a whole and prioritizing becomes important. I sometimes have to drop things that are not as important, and I also have to create balance with my work life and family life, as well.”
A full plate
Jeremy Ng, MD, is another UCLA sports medicine specialist, and he also is the associate lead team physician for the Dodgers. In addition to hospital and team clinical responsibilities, he adds another demand with which each of the UCLA physicians must contend: training residents to follow in their footsteps.
“It’s about prioritization,” said Dr. Ng. “We could work somewhere else and have more free time, but we do this because we love it.”
Credibility builds patient trust
Dr. Hame said her experience working with professional and collegiate athletes is value-added for many patients.
“Patients get excited when they learn that I take care of a professional team, as well as UCLA athletics,” she said.
For Dr. Vasquez, her high-visibility role with the Dodgers also makes her something of a role model and mentor for other young women wanting to pursue a career in medicine.
“I bring a fresh perspective, and the credibility that comes from working with a professional team and at an institution like UCLA has a significant impact,” she said.
For the love of sport
All four physicians are former athletes — Dr. Ng ran track, Dr. Hame was a swimmer, Dr. Jones played football and Dr. Vasquez was a triathlete — and their love of sport guided them to sports medicine.
“When I finished college, I wanted to coach, I wanted to teach and I wanted to go to medical school,” said Dr. Ng. “In all, I wanted to deal with the holistic athlete, and that’s why I chose sports medicine.”
Dr. Hame was on the swim team at UCLA, and she played several sports in high school. “I suffered an ACL tear, and that led to my interest in sports medicine,” she said.
Dr. Vasquez competed as an Olympic-level triathlete until she was sidelined by a hip injury. “I played a lot of sports. Like Dr. Hame, I was a swimmer, and in college I didn’t have a car so I got into cycling to get around.”
Dr. Jones had offers to play for several Division 1 schools in college; he chose, instead, to accept a scholarship to play tailback at the University of Chicago. His experience on the field helps him to understand the needs of both pro and recreational athletes.
“Having been on that side as an athlete and talking to doctors about injuries I had gives me both empathy and knowledge to communicate with athletes across the spectrum in ways to which they can relate,” he said.
“It builds a level of trust so they are comfortable with how medical decisions are being made.”
Learn more about UCLA Health sports medicine.