Duke Launches Women's Sports Medicine Program

By Staff

Athletic Management, 14.3, April/May 2002, http://www.momentummedia.com/articles/am/am1403/bbduke.htm

There is a growing awareness that the health issues of female athletes differ from male's in many cases. With that in mind, Duke University recently opened the Women's Sports Medicine Program within the Duke University Medical Center to address those unique needs both with its own student-athletes and female athletes in general. Only the second of its kind, the program is modeled after the first such program, at the Hospital for Special Surgery, in New York City.

"There are certain medical issues, such as the female athlete triad--disordered eating, amenorrhea (absence of menstruation), and stress fractures--that are unique to women," says the program's head, Dr. Alison Toth. "Also, we have seen a boom in women participating in athletics since Title IX passed in 1972. At the same time, the speed, contact, and intensity of sport and exercise have increased, so more and more women are getting injured. Unfortunately, they don't always get the attention from the healthcare community that they should."

Along with overseeing the program, Toth, an orthopedic surgeon, will serve as team physician for Duke's women's sports, as well as provide much of the athletes' surgical care. She is joined by two more full-time medical professionals, a primary care physician, and a physical therapist. The three will work closely with other specialists at Duke as well as enlist consultants in areas such as nutrition, cardiology, endocrinology, obstetrics and gynecology, and mental health.

"Before the Center was established, we had one doctor who oversaw all sports," says Jen McCollum, Assistant Athletic Trainer at Duke. "He did a great job, but having a doctor who is especially aware of some of the women's issues is great for us in two ways. First of all, it's easier for us to access her because she doesn't have as big a load. And she's established a network of providers who are experienced in treating things like menstrual cycle and nutritional issues."

This allows the athletic trainers and team physician to not just address the athletes' injuries, explains McCollum, but to look at the bigger picture--the athletes' histories, issues with their menstrual cycles, what's going on with their bones, and how those factors intertwine.

Toth is also working with Duke's athletic trainers on ACL injury prevention. "She gave a workshop on a prevention program that we're integrating with our athletes in the off-season," says McCollum. "And some of our athletic trainers have also taken the program and done instruction at the local high schools.

"Because of the center, we're also getting a lot of people interested in some of the other things we're seeing more of in women athletes, like femoral stress fractures," says McCollum. "For example, our MRI technicians want to look into what's going on, and other people want to research the issues of proper healing and bone density. That'll help us address the full spectrum of the injury better."

Duke's program may soon be joined by others around the country. UCLA, Harvard, and several other medical centers currently have similar centers planned.