Team docs keep athletes in game shape
Hilo obstetrician John Uohara has tended Vulcan women for 25 years, directly and by funding a strength/conditioning coach
College athletes use physical strength, speed, power and specialized skills to compete in events from football to sailing. But asking the body to perform at peak levels can result in injuries. So physicians are critical players for the Warriors, Wahine and Vulcans.
Mānoa team docs Andrew Nichols and Michelle Labotz also direct the John A. Burns School of Medicine’s sports medicine fellowships at University of Hawaiʻi. They manage a team of multidisciplinary specialists, including volunteer clinical faculty from the medical school.
"There are so many outstanding aspects to working with this motivated, hard working, talented, interesting and dedicated patient population," says Labotz, who joined 11-year veteran Nichols three years ago.
Team care involves a close network of physicians, trainers and specialists in complementary and alternative medicine, such as chiropractors, acupuncturists and massage therapists. Nichols and Labotz work directly with athletes and mentor medical students.
"The beauty of being at the university is that our mission is education," Nichols says. "The field is literally in the field. The football field becomes a laboratory." This hands-on approach gives the future doctors valuable experience in assessment and management of injuries, which can range from knee sprains and shoulder dislocations to more serious head and neck injuries.
Mānoa faculty physicians Michelle LeBotz and Andrew Nichols treat Rainbow Warriors and Wahine and train doctors-to-be
In addition to medical texts, physicians can turn to the NCAA sports medicine handbook, which suggests how to manage situations from pregnancy to lightning strikes. They also work with trainers to promote healthy lifestyles and address pre-existing conditions, such as asthma and congenital heart conditions, that put athletes at risk.
"We try to find ways to allow the athletes to participate as safely as possible," Nichols says.
One of the hardest aspects is dealing with the emotional and psychological disappointment of an athlete who suffers career ending injuries, he finds. "We have athletes who want to play at all costs, but we can’t let them do that if it involves certain kinds of injuries."
In Hilo, John Uohara has spent 25 years as team physician for the women’s volleyball team. He recently gave $10,000 to the Hilo athletics program to support a women’s strength and conditioning coach.
"John’s dedication to our women’s volleyball team has been tremendous," says Kathleen McNally, Hilo athletic director. "John is there for our wahine all the time and at a moment's notice."
Uohara got involved with Vulcan athletics at the same time he opened a private obstetrician/gynecologist practice in his hometown. "I love sports," he says. "Gravitating to sports through medicine was pretty natural for me."
Although few of the athletes under his care become pros, he enjoys watching their post-college successes in other fields. "It’s gratifying to establish and maintain relationships," he reminisces. "I’ve delivered their babies."