From firemen to athletes to doctors and everything in between, people have lots of dreams of what profession they want to pursue when they grow up, but often take detours along the way. For Dr. Answorth Allen, he knew right away that he wanted to combine his love for helping people with his passion for sports. Now an orthopedic surgeon and Team Orthopedist for the New York Knicks, Dr. Allen shares insights into what it’s like working in medicine and how he was able to take advantage of opportunities presented to him as a way of pursuing his dream job.
How did you first get involved in medicine?
I grew up on the small, but vibrant Island of Jamaica. When I was about 10-years-old, there was a local physician who took care of everyone in the community. He cared for patients who had little to offer as compensation, and many would provide him with produce from their farms in return for his care. I admired his character, his commitment to his work, and this is what helped encourage me to pursue a career in medicine.
Who were some of your greatest sports influences growing up?
Ironically, during my teenage years I moved from the Island of Jamaica to a different Jamaica … Jamaica, Queens. At that time I was involved in youth sports and was particularly interested in soccer, volleyball, and basketball. I was also enamored with the New York Knicks, and of course, fellow Jamaican Patrick Ewing. I was a huge fan of the Knicks, and with Patrick being one of the best players in the NBA, it was easy to root for him and the hometown team.
How did the opportunity with the Knicks develop?
While pursuing a career in Medicine, I became a Fellow at the University of Pittsburgh and was an assistant team physician for the athletics department. Following that time, I began my career as an orthopedic surgeon. As my reputation grew and as I networked with other respected surgeons in my field, I was presented with exciting opportunities, including being named the Medical Director for the NBA Players Association and Team Physician for the New York Mets. When an opportunity came up for a team orthopedist opening with the Knicks, I couldn’t pass it up, especially given my relationship with my colleague, Dr. Lisa Callahan, who is the Chief Medical Officer and Senior Vice President of Player Care for Madison Square Garden Sports, as well as a co-director of the Women’s Sports Medicine Center at HSS.
What are the skills and traits you need to possess in order to become a surgeon, and ultimately be considered for new opportunities with professional sports leagues?
This field involves a life-long learning journey and requires discipline, and you need to be dedicated to your craft and willing to go through the appropriate training. You should allow yourself to be open to new ideas, be willing to go to the research lab and do what is necessary to maximize your learning opportunities, and ultimately you need to be passionate about the work.
What does a typical work day look like?
I wake up at 5:30 am, work out, and then I’m typically in the office by 7am. After seeing patients between 8 am and 5 pm, I then head across town to Madison Square Garden, where I’m usually there until 11 pm. Upon my arrival on a game day, I will check in with the training staff and medical staff to make sure I’m completely updated on each player. The next step is to address any medical-related issues with the team prior to the start of the game. Once the game begins I am responsible for any injuries or evaluations that need to take place for both the Knicks and the visiting team, and then at the conclusion of the game I’ll conduct post-injury evaluation.
What type of relationship do you have with the players?
Being able to treat them and watch them continue to play competitively is satisfying. The relationship I have with the players and the people we’ve treated is special. Some still call us to this day even if they aren’t with the team anymore. To work with the team, athletes, and medical staff is like working with a second family. We work with incredible professionals who are great people.
What’s it like working with a team who you grew up idolizing?
Players are patients. An injury is an injury. These athletes are patients first and players second. There’s more pressure and more visibility around professional athletes, but we treat them just like we treat anyone else. We don’t take shortcuts with people who are famous. We do what’s in the best interest of the patient, and while this job is not work in the traditional sense, it’s my passion, and working with the Knicks is a privilege. I get to meet amazing people through this experience, work with incredible physicians such as Dr. Callahan, and the whole medical staff is fantastic. I’m appreciative more than anything else. It’s a great feeling to be a part of something bigger than myself and making a small contribution as part of a team trying to bring back a championship to New York.
What advice do you have for people who want to get into this field?
For anyone who wants to pursue this profession and ultimately work for a sports team, my advice is to first and foremost be a good doctor. That’s where it begins. There are only so many people in these jobs but you can make a difference. You can treat high school athletes, young adults. You can take care of people in the community. Look for people who need help. Develop good habits and hone your craft.
Dr. Answorth Allen is an associate attending orthopedic surgeon at Hospital for Special Surgery, specializing in shoulder, knee, and elbow surgery. Dr. Allen is a team orthopedist for the New York Knicks basketball team and an orthopedic consultant for the West Indies Cricket Board of Control.