"I have to rely on my ability to provide the highest quality care to each patient," Dr. Schuler says.”Regardless of whether they are weekend warriors or professional athletes my job is to get them back to the life they love." He says he treats athletes with the same respect he seeks to provide all patients, regardless of who they are and what team they play for.
2. Operate only when necessary. Dr. Schuler says he operates on less than 5 percent of the athletes he treats. "The vast majority of treatment I provide is non-operative," he says. The Virginia Spine Institute focuses on medical pain management and coordinating rehabilitation, proceeding with minimally invasive surgery only as a last resort. He also makes sure all surgeons at his practice are well-versed in non-surgical pain management. They do in-house physical therapy to ensure patients receive integrated care.
"If you want success in working with professional athletes, non-operative expertise is essential," he says.
And if surgery is the only way to care for an injured athlete, then "you need to be able to offer the proper surgery for that athlete."It's about pinpointing the exact surgery that athlete needs and performing that technique, not just falling back on the surgery you're best at," Dr. Schuler says. If you aren't comfortable performing the technique that would be most beneficial, don't be afraid to refer the athlete to another surgeon with more expertise.
3. While not essential, having a sports background 'surely helps.' Dr. Schuler played football in high school and worked with athletes during his fellowship at the Kerlan-Jobe Orthopaedic Clinic in Los Angeles. He carried those experiences to the east coast when he set up the Virginia Spine Institute in the early 90s. During his career he has treated professional athletes from coast to coast including football players, baseball players and basketball players. In addition he has experience with professional golfers and Olympic athletes.
He's been the spine consultant for the NFL's Washington Redskins since 1993 and says it's critical to consider the intricate nature of an athlete's career.
"We need to understand what somebody's job puts them through," Dr. Schuler says. Knowing the game of football may help when caring for a professional football player. Understanding that an offensive lineman and defensive cornerback may be putting a different kind of stress on their respective spines will help a spine surgeon make more precise evaluations. Spine surgeons that have played sports know first-hand the kind of wear and tear a given sport puts on the body.
4. Don't enter the sports world as a spine specialist looking for fame. "The best team doctors are usually the most humble and out of the limelight," Dr. Schuler says. "If someone goes into [sports medicine] seeking the limelight, chances are they will not be successful."
Dr. Schuler says he didn't go into practice merely to treat athletes, but that's largely what he does now; he treats athletes from across the country and it's something he finds great joy in.
"It's fun to go into a training facility and see the players," he says. "But you're there for a reason — to get them back in the game."
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