Training Background and Characteristics of NFL, MLB, and NBA Team Physicians

Academic Article


  • Background: An analysis of the demographics and training of head team physicians (HTPs) in professional sports would be valuable for evaluating training programs and as a resource for aspirant HTPs. Purpose: To outline common characteristics among professional sport HTPs. Study Design: Cross-sectional study. Methods: In June 2021, publicly available directories and news articles were used to identify the head orthopaedic HTPs and primary care HTPs for every team in Major League Baseball (MLB), the National Basketball Association (NBA), and the National Football League (NFL). Data regarding HTP characteristics were collected via internet-based sources. Age, sex, years from fellowship completion to current team role, and years in current team role were compared across sports with chi-square analyses and analyses of variance; comparisons between orthopaedic and primary care HTPs were performed with Fisher exact tests and Student t tests. The most frequently attended residency and fellowship training programs were also calculated. The productivity of fellowship programs was calculated as the number of current HTPs from that institution divided by the number of fellowship positions currently offered. Results: We identified 181 HTPs: 171 (94%) men and 10 (6%) women. The mean age was 55.4 years (range, 33-79 years); the mean time from fellowship training completion to first year in current team role was 9.8 years (range, 0-29 years); and the mean time spent in current team role was 14.1 years (range, 0-39 years). There were 94 orthopaedic HTPs and 87 primary care HTPs. The rate of fellowship training was significantly higher in orthopaedic HTPs (95%) than in primary care HTPs (67%; P <.001). The fellowship programs that produced the largest number of current HTPs were the Hospital for Special Surgery (n = 16; productivity = 2.3), the American Sports Medicine Institute (11; 1.8), and the Kerlan-Jobe Orthopaedic Clinic (11; 1.2). The years from fellowship to HTP varied significantly by sport: 7.2 for MLB, 10.0 for the NFL, and 11.7 for the NBA (P =.048). Conclusion: Almost all orthopaedic HTPs were fellowship trained, as compared with two-thirds of primary care HTPs. Of the 94 orthopaedic HTPs, 62% were trained at 6 specific fellowship programs. Men accounted for a majority of HTPs.
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    Digital Object Identifier (doi)

    Author List

  • Young MW; Plummer HA; Fleisig GS
  • Volume

  • 10
  • Issue

  • 11