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The Role of an MLB Team Physician

Dr. Struan Coleman examining patient

To celebrate the start of the MLB season, we’re featuring a blog series this week with articles written by HSS surgeons who work with professional baseball players. Our fourth installment is written by Dr. Struan Coleman, sports medicine surgeon. You can also read our previous articles on Sliding Safely with Dr. Anil Ranawat, Managing Pitcher Workloads with Dr. Joshua Dines and The Life of a Catcher with Dr. Andrew Pearle here.

As the head team physician for the New York Mets for the past 14 years, I’ve learned it’s incredibly important to develop trust with the players so that they feel comfortable coming to you with any medical issue, regardless of how small. The MLB season is a marathon of 162 games, so most injuries that occur are overuse injuries as opposed to traumatic.  Because of this, my job is to always be proactive and monitor each player for fatigue and early signs of injury. Rest and recovery are so important for MLB players to get them through the season safely and injury-free!

As part of my responsibilities, I oversee the day-to-day operations of the medical staff and coordinate care for all the players. Similar to the roster, the medical staff also acts as a cohesive unit by seamlessly integrating the team physicians, head trainer Brian Chicklo and the rest of the Mets athletic trainers, strength and conditioning coaches, and physical therapists. Everyone has to be on the same page in order to provide unified continuous care to the players throughout the season. The number one priority is to keep the patient (in this case, the player) on the field and healthy and also performing to his best ability.

My role typically stays consistent from Spring Training all the way to the potential postseason. During Spring Training, we work to get players back on the field through strength training and conditioning exercises. These help the players warm up slowly and efficiently. This is the most critical time for monitoring for early fatigue as players may be overextending themselves, especially if they’re trying to make the roster. If your team makes the playoffs, even though the hype is greater, the same proactive vigilance has to apply. The priority is always to protect each player – regardless of the game!

One thing people may not realize is that team physicians also treat the visiting team if any injuries occur. While that may appear to be a conflict of interest, we have great relationships with physicians of other teams and reach decisions together on medical care of their players when they are in our stadium. The only medical situation where the home team physician makes a unilateral decision without any hesitation is if a visiting player shows signs of a concussion. In that case, the player is removed from the game immediately for their safety.

During my 14 year tenure, I have developed a great working relationship with our head trainer Brian Chicklo, Dr. David Altchek (medical director of the Mets and my fellow sports medicine surgeon here at HSS), and the other doctors on the Mets’ medical staff. I feel fortunate to be a part of this group.  All members are reliable and well trained and work together as a cohesive unit to seamlessly take care of the players.  This is made possible because of clear communication. Communication and trust between each member of the staff ensures that every player is treated with the highest level of care.

One of the most rewarding aspects about being a team physician is the collegial environment of being part of the team. Everyone is working towards the same goal and it’s exciting to celebrate success together!

Reviewed on March 19th, 2018

Dr. Struan Coleman, sports medicine surgeon

Dr. Struan Coleman is an orthopedic surgeon and specializes in sports medicine at Hospital for Special Surgery. He is currently the head team physician for the New York Mets.

The information provided in this blog by HSS and our affiliated physicians is for general informational and educational purposes, and should not be considered medical advice for any individual problem you may have. This information is not a substitute for the professional judgment of a qualified health care provider who is familiar with the unique facts about your condition and medical history. You should always consult your health care provider prior to starting any new treatment, or terminating or changing any ongoing treatment. Every post on this blog is the opinion of the author and may not reflect the official position of HSS. Please contact us if we can be helpful in answering any questions or to arrange for a visit or consult.