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On the sidelines: Certified trainers provide expert care for athletes

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Imann Rollins, an outreach assistant athletic trainer with the VCU Sports Medicine Clinic, works with a Virginia Union football player at a recent practice.
Photo by Allen Jones, University Marketing.

When Michael Brown and Reggie Wilkins collided near midfield during a college football game Sept. 17, it likely seemed like just another tackle. But it wasn’t.

Wilkins, a senior receiver for Winston-Salem State University, got up after the play. Brown, a junior defensive back for Virginia Union University, didn’t. He was spine-boarded from the field on a stretcher and taken to Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center.

Imann Rollins, an outreach assistant athletic trainer with the Virginia Commonwealth University Sports Medicine Clinic, works with VUU’s athletic staff and was on the sideline that day in North Carolina. She provides support to schools with smaller athletic staffs. If not for her presence that day, there would have been only one trainer for VUU to attend to Brown, who had suffered a serious neck injury.

“There are not enough eyes, ears and hands to go around to be an efficient sports medicine team on the sideline with two athletic trainers,” Rollins said. “Not being properly staffed also affects the outcome of injured players’ rehabilitation process. Players are not able to receive the proper attention because the athletic trainers are being pulled in multiple directions.”

VCU Health and the VCU Department of Orthopaedics hire certified athletic trainers to work at contracted schools. The VCU Sports Medicine Clinic has an outreach athletic training program that provides not only an athletic trainer’s presence for schools in need, but evaluations of injured athletes, first aid, treatment, referrals, rehabilitation, and performance enhancement training. Other VCU ATCs are placed at Maggie L. Walker Governor’s School. 

This helps to ensure that we are providing the best medical care possible to those athletes.

The team physicians, Thomas P. Loughran, M.D., Seth Cheatham, M.D., and Katherine Dec, M.D., provide training room and game coverage for Longwood University, in addition to VUU and VCU. Loughran has been the local team physician for the Richmond Flying Squirrels and Varina High School for decades.

“We act as physician extenders on the field and liaisons between our physicians, the athletes, coaches, and parents at each school. This helps to ensure that we are providing the best medical care possible to those athletes,” said Nicole Stevens, the VCU ATC outreach program coordinator.

In addition to game day coverage, VCU ATCs provide daily treatment and rehabilitation, along with any taping and bracing athletes need for practices and games. They also help streamline athletes’ referral processes to the VCU Sports Medicine clinic and other medical facilities.   

VCU ATCs also provide concussion management, a current and critical issue among athletes, particularly with the rise of reports of chronic traumatic encephalopathy. There is a continuum of care from the field through medical care, and through an athlete's return to class and sports activity. That’s important because many athletes who experience concussions have memory issues, and visual complaints that can affect their ability to return to the classroom and their sport. Cervical spine injuries can also occur during contact sports, and ATCs are critical in identifying those situations as well.

Because of the risk of such severe injuries, it’s crucial that officials and sideline personnel are aware of the level of training and coordinated care that is present when an ATC is assisting a sports program, said Dec, a VCU Health physician in the VCU Sports Medicine Clinic and professor in the Departments of Orthopaedics and Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation. Dec serves as the head team physician at Longwood and has been quoted nationally as an expert on concussions.

“It’s important for people to know who our health care professionals are on the sidelines; who are caring for athletes,” she said. “These are master’s degree professionals.”

VUU football coach Mark James said Rollins’ presence and expertise at his team’s practices and games is instrumental. He vividly remembers when Brown seriously injured his neck and Imann rushed toward him.

“Imann was the first one to get to [Brown] and she was the first one to secure his head to make sure they didn’t move him and she stayed with him,” James said. “Having Imann gives us more security and safety for our kids, particularly because we are a contact sport. [Brown] is doing great but it could have been worse. He’s up and walking around.”

The VCU Sports Medicine Clinic has been providing outreach ATCs since 2012. James, a VUU alumnus and former football player, remembers Loughran when he worked the sidelines during his 1998 and 1999 seasons. Loughran is currently the VCU Sports Medicine Clinic’s medical director.

“He worked on my knees,” James said.

Now, from the other side of the field, James is even more appreciative of the work ATCs perform. At any given time he may be responsible for 100 players.

“From a head coach point of view, when you have those ATCs you feel more comfortable,” he said. “It gives us double eyes and double hands in being able to make sure our kids are safe.”

 

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