By ELLEN GOLDBAUM
Published September 20, 2023
Mohamed Bah, a third-year student in the Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, spent August doing a clinical rotation with the Buffalo Bills. He was one of 19 students nationwide chosen to be part of the National Football League’s Diversity in Sports Medicine Pipeline Initiative. A joint program of the NFL Physicians Society and the Professional Football Athletic Trainers Society, the initiative is aimed at increasing and diversifying the pipeline of students interested in pursuing careers in sports medicine, with the ultimate goal of diversifying NFL club medical staff.
Bah recently spoke with UBNow to share what he learned from his unique experience with the Bills.
I spent the first day meeting the medical staff and the trainers. Dr. Bisson introduced me to a few players and had me see some of them go through a few team physicals. At the beginning of every training camp, players undergo a complete physical, especially those who had previous injuries. And the first week of practice there’s no contact. By the second week, they start to pad up.
Initially, Dr. Bisson had me come in early, before practice, to see how the trainers prep the players, see them when they pad up. There is a lot of preparation. I was a collegiate athlete, so I know how teams get ready for competition, but this is way more in depth, a lot more physical therapy and preparation for practice.
I met so many of the people on staff — there’s even a sports scientist. In professional sports, players have certain metrics to determine their performance, like running speed, full sprint speed, they measure in miles per hour. So sometimes they go through testing to get the metrics on players, and in the preseason they get the players to measure their metrics. Everything is specialized for that specific position — sprint speed, foot speed, etc., and it’s the sports scientist who records the numbers, then the trainer implements it.
I also met the team staff, offensive and defensive coodinators, and coaches for each position, and the scouters. There’s a ton of different people, that was the biggest thing for me, learning how many different parts of the organization there are. You see these guys on TV, you see them perform but you don’t know how many people were actually behind their performance.
I saw that as a sports medicine doctor, you have to be a generalist, you have to be good with caring for all the different parts of the musculoskeletal system, you have to be versed in stuff outside of your own general practice. In addition to the sports medicine and orthopaedic doctors, there are internal medicine primary care doctors because players have regular health issues, too. They get sick. And the doctors work with the team and are at every practice. And you see the spine surgeons, neurologists and neurosurgeon — unaffiliated consultants at games. They monitor for concussions. They watch the game and rewind the plays.
During the preseason, I was allowed to be in the concussion booth with one of the neuro consultants and his whole consulting team, which was a fantastic experience. The consultants are in constant communication with the medical staff on the field, getting feedback in real time. There are so many different health professionals who are helping out.
Last but not least being a professional athlete is a huge mental challenge as well. Players have to manage the pressure of performing, media scrutiny and personal internal struggles as well. That’s why a sports psychologist and psychiatrist are always there to make sure the mental health of these players is in good condition so they can manage and overcome these challenges.
I would say be grateful for the opportunity and just always put your best foot forward and be open to things. You will get the chance to meet so many different people so you will understand how the organization works. You won’t be hands on, but observe as much as you can and ask as many questions as you can.
Witnessing the Bills fan base. The Buffalo Bills has one of the most exciting and loyal fan bases in the entire NFL. Every preseason practice that was open was always full. There were fans everywhere. They are passionate and they are loud. They made every practice exciting.
I’m just grateful I had a chance to see all this up close and personal. It was a very humbling experience and you get to see the players on a personal level. They’re not the guys you see on TV; you see them in the locker room, see their personalities and how funny they are. And I like working with this population. I took away the fact that there’s just so much going on behind the scenes. The audience will never get a chance to know that. And it’s such a different type of atmosphere from working in the hospitals. We watch practice every day, looking for injuries and seeing things in real time versus being in the hospital and seeing patients in rooms. It was a little bit of culture shock, frankly, coming back to the clinic after practice camp, but I’m glad to be back.