5 Things I Wish I Knew Before I Became a Sports Medicine Physician

sports medicine

scott kleppeEditor’s Note: I’m grateful to Dr. Scott Kleppe for sharing this guest post for The Specialist Series.  He has some great pearls to share for people interested in a career in sports medicine.  

Are you interested in contributing an article to The Specialist Series?  It’s a great opportunity to share your wisdom with current and future members of your specialty, as well as get some free promotion for your blog, podcast, or business.  You can check out The Specialist Series home page here, or email editor@TheScopeOfPractice.com for more information.

The cheering fans, the bright lights, the deafening beats from the band, and the emotional coach – this is our medical office.  I didn’t always know that I wanted to become a primary care sports medicine physician but, fortunately I met several mentors in my medical training that guided me down the path.  However, some things you just do not learn until you get into the big leagues.

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Here are five things that I wish I knew prior to starting clinical practice in hopes that I can show you not only the rewards but also the challenges that come from being a primary care sports medicine physician.

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1. Availability, affability, and ability – in that order


Athletes with sports injuries want to get better and get better fast.  If you are unable to help them in a timely manner, then they are going to go to the next place.  Availability is crucial in sports medicine.

You have to have your athletic trainer’s contact information and be willing to take phone calls at all hours to help athletes when they need you.  Whether you are employed or own your practice, you must set up a way to get athletes in your door as soon as possible.

A lot of sports medicine offices have a specific phone line that is dedicated to offering easy access for community physicians trying to get their athlete in to see the sports medicine physician.


Athletes and individuals that come into the sports medicine clinic are generally going to be energetic and passionate individuals.  As a sports medicine physician, you need to know how to communicate with the patient that wants to get better as soon as possible.sports medicine

In medicine, sometimes we have issues with patients not being compliant.  Examples include not taking their medication, not doing their exercises, and not following up for certain tests or blood work.  However, in the athlete population you tend to see individuals on the other end of that spectrum.

You will be working with people that overdo their exercises or push their bodies to limits that they are not ready for.  You have to understand how to communicate with that type of patient.  Doing that requires affability.  Be kind as they work through whatever ailment is prohibiting them from doing the activities that they want to do.


There are so many exciting advancements in the sports medicine field.  Having the ability to learn new skills as technology advances is crucial to staying relevant as a sports medicine physician.  Musculoskeletal ultrasound, regenerative medicine, optimal nutrition for the athlete, and so many more topics will keep you busy learning as a sports medicine physician.

 2. Working nights, weekends, and holidays does not end after training

Sporting events occur on nights, weekends, and holidays.  You will find yourself getting rained on during a Thanksgiving day football game.  It’s possible you will find yourself getting snowed on during a nighttime lacrosse game. You’d better wear your sunscreen as the sun beats down on you as you cover a weekend marathon.

Sports do not tend to happen from 9am – 5pm Monday through Friday.  From the outside looking in, sometimes sports medicine can sound like a relatively glamorous specialty – and it can be.

sports medicineHowever, there are several components to the specialty that go unwitnessed.  You often are not just seeing athletes in the office.  Seeing athletes in the training room, on the sideline, or even attending some physical therapy sessions is common. Also, you have to remember that there are varying levels of sports.

As a primary care sports medicine physician you will gain experience covering athletics from youth to professional.  Sometimes you run into back-to-back days because of covering different levels of activity.  Youth sports may occur on a Thursday, high school sports on a Friday, college sports on a Saturday, and professional sports on a Sunday.

As with any high-level profession, you will have to learn how to manage time, communicate, and delegate tasks.  You must do this in order to make sure that your athletes have the coverage that they need to participate safely in their athletics.

3. Athletic trainers can make or break a sports medicine physician’s practice.

As I went through my medical training, I had several experiences with nurses, medical assistants, nurse practitioners, and physician assistants.  However, I never spent much time with athletic trainers in my medical training until I focused on sports medicine.

Athletic trainers are your eyes and ears with your athletes in the community.  Athletic trainers get to know the athletes that they take care of very well.  Just like a bedside nurse, trainers can help guide a busy physician.  An athletic trainer can help a sports medicine physician understand the athlete better and provide crucial information in the management of the athlete.

One difficulty that I did not anticipate when becoming a primary care sports medicine physician was having to understand all the legalities governing what an athletic trainer can do, who they can treat, and what services they are allowed to bill.  Also, this will vary from state to state.  I have found myself researching various bills and articles to determine what athletic trainers in various states are allowed to do.

You also have to consider what happens when you cross state lines for athletic events.  What medical services are you allowed to provide? What medical services are your athletic trainers able to provide?  Having a good athletic trainer who stays up-to-date with the rules and regulations is invaluable.

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4. The passion for sports runs deep. Also…define sport.

For those athletes involved in sports and for the parents of young athletes, sports can be a strong source of passion.  Sports can cause people to act irrationally and can cause people to cry.  Sports can cause people to get angry, and sports can result in joy.

I wish I would have known that I would have to learn how to communicate with people experiencing all of these emotions.  I have had parents of an injured athlete get frustrated when their child cannot play due to medical concerns.  It has at times been difficult communicating with athletes when the state title is on the line.  At time, I have had the opportunity to experience extreme joy when the athletes I take care of are successful.sports medicine

In the same breath, it is important to understand that the spectrum of sports is very wide.  Dancers are some of the most competitive and gifted athletes that I have taken care of.  As a sports medicine physician, I have to understand the medical ailments that affect all athletes.  Those athletes range from a 300-pound lineman to a 12-year-old ballerina.

Athletes come in all shapes and sizes.  The better you can communicate with athletes from all sports and all backgrounds, the better off you are going to be as a sports medicine physician.

5. Sports medicine is a highly marketable specialty but defining what it is can be tricky.

If you do an Internet search for sports medicine you will come up with various results.  Some of these results include sports medicine chiropractors, sports medicine physical therapists, sports medicine “performance” centers, and sports medicine physicians.

Even at a national organization level, defining sports medicine within the medical community has been a challenge.

  • What does a sports medicine physician do?
  • What does a sports medicine physician not do?
  • When is it appropriate to go see a sports medicine physician?
  • Do you have to be an athlete to see a sports medicine physician?

These are all questions that I have found varying answers to depending on who you ask.  However, if you find what sports medicine means to you, figure out the services that you want to provide, and find your target audience, sports medicine can be a very highly marketable specialty.

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When athletes or active individuals get injured, they want help as soon as they can get it.  They want to get back to being active quickly (see point #1).  If you create an environment that is easily accessible and market yourself well, then you can be wildly successful as a sports medicine physician.  You will have to let your local physicians know what your sports medicine background can provide to their patients.

There are so many procedures available in the sports medicine world.  The medical evidence supporting some procedures weighs higher than others.  You will hear things such as stem cell injections, platelet rich plasma injections, ultrasound-guided steroid injections, osteopathic manipulative medicine, percutaneous tenotomy, and several more.

You will have to determine, based on your medical education, what procedures have the evidence behind them for your patients/athletes.  That way, you can make sure that your patients and local physicians know what you can do for them.

Final Thoughts:

Overall, if I had to do it again, I would – without question.  Taking care of patients that want to get better and return to active

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lifestyles is very inspiring.  These are the things I wish I would have known.

Of course, as time goes by I learn more AND learn more of what I do not know.  That is what makes it fun!  Hopefully this will provide some insight to medical students, residents, and fellows as they progress through their training.

Further Reading


Please leave a comment below!  What do you know about sports medicine that you want to share?  If you’re thinking about going into sports medicine, what’s something you wish you knew the answer to?


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scott kleppe


Dr. Scott Kleppe is a pediatric sports medicine physician in Corpus Christi, TX.  He has special interest in contact sports, physician leadership, keeping the youth active, and program development.  Dr. Kleppe enjoys working with athletes from all sports and taking a proactive approach to reduce injuries.

He is the current medical director of the Sports Medicine Department at Driscoll Children’s Hospital, where he is working on developing a pediatric sports medicine program.


Are you interested in contributing an article to The Specialist Series?  It’s a great opportunity to share your wisdom with current and future members of your specialty, as well as get some free promotion for your blog, podcast, or business.  You can check out The Specialist Series home page here, or email editor@TheScopeOfPractice.com for more information.


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Comments (4)

  • Interesting write-up Brent! I agree that athletes need fast and effective cure, and also a different type of approach towards injuries that regular physicians might not be able to offer. So, it’s important to seek professionals who specialize in musculoskeletal injuries and illnesses.

  • I’m an ultra endurance cyclist (with no team or athletic trainer) and looking for a sports medicine physician in the Washington, DC area. I’ve been searching the internet and found your article. I’d love some guidance please. How do I find such a physician?

    • The best recommendation will come from a friend who has a good sports medicine doc they like. If you know any endurance cyclists in the area, ask them for a recommendation. You could also reach out to local cycling clubs and see if they have a team doctor.

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