Whenever he encounters student athletes at Virginia Tech, Mark B. Rogers, DO, makes them an offer: Cardiac screenings are available to all student athletes, free of charge.
“Athletes hear about the screening program from one another, which is our best advertisement,” says Dr. Rogers, who serves as head team physician for the school’s NCAA Division I football program. “We often hear, ‘I wasn’t planning to get checked, but I mentioned it to my parents and it turns out my grandfather had heart disease, so I do have a family history.’”
The cardiac screenings—which aren’t yet widespread among Division I schools, but can help prevent cardiac arrest on the field by detecting issues—are just one way Dr. Rogers focuses on prevention when working with NFL hopefuls. As a DO, Dr. Rogers has also found unique ways to promote whole-person care among both student athletes and the wider local community.
“I take a holistic approach: What do student athletes need to do in order to do well emotionally, academically and athletically?” says Dr. Rogers, who is also an assistant professor of sports and family medicine at the Edward Via College of Osteopathic Medicine-Virginia Campus in Blacksburg. “Hopefully we can leave an imprint that will help them manage their health effectively both now and when they leave Virginia Tech.”
Empowering student athletes
Dr. Rogers and his physician colleagues have sought to make it easier for athletes to access their medical records.
“Some athletes tell us they’ve had blood work done before, but their doctor has never shown them the result,” he says. “We started a medical database for everybody because we want them to be empowered about their health.” Because health data can be a key factor in performance, Dr. Rogers says, many athletes are excited to be able to track indicators such as their iron or vitamin levels.
Health education is another focus for Dr. Rogers, who collaborates with the athletic program’s nutritionists, coaches, and sports psychologist to give students the knowledge they need to make informed decisions about their own health.
“Some students don’t know which foods are healthy for training and how proper nutrition can help them perform better or recover from injury,” Dr. Rogers notes.
Dr. Rogers also uses osteopathic manipulative treatment (OMT) to treat athletes’ musculoskeletal complaints, both on game day and between competitions. Because OMT can provide pain relief without the need for medication, Dr. Rogers says, it’s a sought-after procedure among Virginia Tech athletes.
Student athletes have extremely diverse physical, psychosocial and emotional issues, and successful team physicians must understand this and make sure they’re providing individualized care, Dr. Rogers says.
“You might have one player who has diabetes and struggles to control his blood sugar levels while competing, and another player who’s a freshman from a very small town and is having trouble adjusting to a campus of 35,000 people,” he explains.
Team physicians also face occasional roadblocks when their young patients—mostly between ages 18 and 21—assert their newfound independence by ignoring their doctors’ advice, Dr. Rogers notes. In these cases, he works with whomever the student trusts most, perhaps the team nutritionist or strength and conditioning coach, to reiterate the link between healthy habits and peak athletic performance.
In addition to empowering Virginia Tech’s student athletes, Dr. Rogers and his athletic department colleagues hope to raise health literacy throughout the campus and community. To that end, they’ve held workshops at local schools on topics such as concussion and overuse injuries. In the future, they hope to start campus initiatives around sleep, nutrition and cardiac health.