Is a sports medicine fellowship right for you?

A DO alum of Duke University’s sports medicine fellowship program shares what students and residents need to know.


Fellowships are becoming more popular in this new generation of physicians, and sports medicine is one that can be pursued from a number of specialties, including family medicine, surgery, emergency medicine, pediatrics and osteopathic neuromusculoskeletal medicine.

In this edited interview, Ben Boswell, DO, an emergency medicine attending at University Hospitals Cleveland Medical Center (UHCMC) who completed a sports medicine fellowship at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina, shares his advice for students and residents who are considering pursuing a fellowship in sports medicine.

Dr. Boswell is an assistant professor in the sports medicine division for UHCMC’s orthopedic surgery department, the head medical physician for the Cleveland Monsters, a minor league hockey affiliate of the Columbus Blue Jackets, and an assistant medical physician for the Cleveland Browns. Needless to say, he has a wealth of experience and knowledge in sports medicine.

What were your reasons for pursuing a sports medicine fellowship, and how has that training shaped your career?

As I progressed through residency, I became aware of the need for more emergency physicians in the field of sports medicine. As of this year, only 4% of sports medicine physicians come from emergency medicine (EM). This figure was even smaller when I chose to pursue sports medicine.

Having an EM background gives physicians a special niche from which to advance in sports medicine for several reasons. We are comfortable managing trauma when it comes to acute sports injuries and we are also proficient with procedures, which is very useful in a sports medicine practice.

How should residents prepare for a fellowship in sports medicine?

Fellowship positions are becoming more competitive, and preparation is important. I strongly encourage getting involved in sports coverage with local high schools and college teams if these opportunities are available at your residency site. This is one of the most emphasized areas of the application process.

I would also encourage working on a research project that encompasses an area of focus within sports medicine, sports performance or orthopedics. Consider publishing research, presenting either a poster or an oral presentation at one of the annual sports medicine conferences: American Osteopathic Academy of Sports Medicine (AOASM), American Medical Society for Sports Medicine (AMSSM) or the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM). Attending any of these conferences also paves the way for networking, which can also help in standing out within the application process.

What opportunities exist for a sports medicine fellow?

Sports medicine is currently a one-year fellowship, and it’s a busy one. In my opinion, it’s the most fun year one will have as a professional. As a sports medicine fellow, your days will be spent in the sports medicine and orthopedic surgery clinics working alongside specialists who provide excellent training.

Evenings are spent covering sporting events. Most fellowships will aim to provide experience working with high school, college and professional teams.

What skill sets do fellows leave with?

I have had the opportunity to learn everything from acute injury management to managing long-term injuries. I’ve learned about rehabilitation and how to prepare athletes to get back into competition. Additionally, there is an emphasis on nutrition and helping prime athletes for peak performance.

In regards to clinical practice, I learned how to manage an outpatient sports medicine clinic, which includes caring for non-surgical orthopedics cases as well as determining indications for surgical orthopedics.

What does an average week of work look like for you as an EM attending and a specialist in sports medicine?

I currently practice both EM and sports medicine. There are several options for practice breakdown, but I chose a practice with stronger emphasis on sports medicine. I work in the ED one day a week at a Level 1 trauma center. I have an outpatient sports medicine clinic where I work on the other days of the week.

As a sports medicine physician, having a procedurally heavy practice and being proficient at indications for and the performance of non-surgical orthopedics procedures is where I love spending my time working.

Many of my nights and weekends are consumed with sideline and game coverage. I’m the head team physician for an American Hockey League team and I am an assistant team physician for an NFL team. I also cover two local high schools and provide care at many of their games as well.

Is there a difference between sports medicine fellowships for EM residents vs. those for primary care residents or residents from other specialties?

Yes, many fellowship programs take EM and primary care applicants, but some do not. Most programs list their specific requirements on their website, so I would encourage researching programs you’re interested in and find out what applicants they take. If this information is not readily available, reach out to the fellowship PD to see what applicants they take.

You will be required to work in your primary specialty as a “continuity” day during your fellowship. The next step is to get an idea of what the fellowship’s continuity work entails. Most programs I interviewed at allowed for you to work as an EM attending during your fellowship, whereas some had you work in the ED as a resident during your fellowship. One program wanted me to work in urgent care as my continuity practice during my fellowship.

Make sure to have an idea of what you want when you apply for fellowship. It is common to practice within your field of specialty at least one a week, while the rest of your time is dedicated to sports medicine.

Anything else you think a sports med hopeful should know?

I’m biased, but I feel that EM doctors bring a very strong background to the field of sports medicine. It’s been a great career path for me and I have no regrets.

Editor’s note: The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent the views of The DO or the AOA.

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