Las Vegas is a sports medicine mecca these days. Not only are its economy, population and businesses growing explosively, but so are its sports teams.
And more sports teams means more need for sports medicine physicians—an ideal opportunity for osteopathic physicians to show off their expertise in osteopathic manipulative treatment and the body’s musculoskeletal structures.
John Dougherty, DO, shares these insights with his students at Touro University Nevada College of Osteopathic Medicine (TUNCOM) in suburban Las Vegas, where he serves as dean.
Dr. Dougherty’s OMT prowess is what landed him a job as a team physician for the Kansas City Royals a decade ago. Dr. Dougherty and his brother, Christopher Dougherty, DO, were both interviewing for physician roles with the Royals, and when the sports medicine director for the Royals arrived to conduct the interview, he was in intense pain from an aching back due to the long flight to northwest Arkansas. In what would become a career-defining move, Dr. John Dougherty offered OMT.
Within minutes, Dr. Dougherty had alleviated the sports medicine director’s pain and restored his functionality and range of motion.
He was offered the job on the spot, as was his brother. Dr. John Dougherty became the team’s head medical physician and Dr. Christopher Dougherty became its head orthopedics physician. The two earned a pair of 2015 World Series rings along the way.
Winning with OMT
“Function and structure are interrelated. That’s one of the guiding tenets of osteopathic medicine. And in sports medicine, it’s the No. 1 tenet,” Dr. Dougherty says. “It’s who we are as osteopathic physicians.”
And in Las Vegas in particular, there is a growing need for more osteopathic physicians trained in sports medicine.
Beyond the strip
The Vegas Golden Knights, the city’s first professional hockey team, held their first game in 2017 and every game since has sold out. The team made history as the first franchise in National Hockey League (NHL) history to sweep a postseason series in its inaugural season. The Las Vegas Aces, a professional women’s basketball team, relocated to Vegas from Salt Lake City, Utah, this year, while the Las Vegas Lights FC, a professional soccer team, debuted there this year.
The Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC), headquartered in Vegas, opened a $12 million, 33,000-square-foot facility on a 15-acre complex in 2017. And the NFL’s Oakland Raiders will launch their 2020 season as the Las Vegas Raiders, complete with a $1.8 billion stadium.
Sports teams aside, Cirque du Soleil, with its jaw-dropping acrobatics, continues to draw sold-out crowds in Vegas year-round, and a roster of large-scale musicals and other demanding performances—as well as college sports programs—means the city is in particular need of sports medicine physicians.
A market for innovators
While Vegas is a market ripe for athletes and the sports medicine physicians who treat them, there aren’t enough doctors to meet the growing demand.
Matthew Otten, DO, a sports injury consultant for ESPN and other broadcast networks and a clinical professor of sports medicine at Touro University Nevada, says there are a wide array of opportunities for sports medicine in Las Vegas.
Dr. Otten is fellowship-trained in non-operative sports medicine and has served as ringside physician for Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) fights.
“The market has become so popular that you can create an exclusive business if you practice long enough and if you have enough experience in a particular field,” he says.
On the field
Part of the effectiveness of osteopathic physicians in the athletic realm is due to their diagnostic skills, Dr. Dougherty says. “When you’re dealing with athletes, sometimes you have to make decisions without the luxury of an MRI or even an X-ray. You have to make immediate decisions,” he adds. “And the coaches rely on you to make a decision on how they’re going to manage the game or the event. There has to be a great deal of trust between the sports medicine physician and the players and the coaches.”
On May 4, Dr. John Dougherty was sworn in as president of the American Osteopathic Academy of Sports Medicine (AOASM). Part of his leadership includes an emphasis on interprofessional education. Sports medicine requires a collaborative group, which opens the doors for DOs in sports medicine as well as other specialties.
“Within the Kansas City Royals team, we had a pediatrician, an ob/gyn, and a nutritionist. Why? Because those professional players have wives and children and when they travel, sometimes their wives come and they get sick, or the children are there and they are sick. You have to have a full complement of physicians to do high-level sports medicine.”
“The continual evolution of procedures and interventions requires continual evaluation of process,” says Dr. Otten.
The concussion issue, in large part, has affected the approach to treating athletic concussions, which has impact at the high school, college and professional level, according to Dr. Dougherty, who cites the new 2017 NCAA concussion guidelines.
“At every college game, you’ll find a sports medicine physician or you’ll find a college that’s looking for a sports medicine physician because that’s what they need to stay compliant with the required standard of care,” he says.