Azra Dees is one of only 30 students selected for the NFL Diversity in Sports Medicine Pipeline Initiative.
Growing up, Azra Dees enjoyed dancing, playing basketball, building things and volunteering at the hospital where her dad worked as an anesthesiologist. All these interests, she realized as she got older, merged in orthopedic surgery, a career path she felt destined to follow.
“I was introduced to orthopedic surgeons and discovered they took care of professional dancers,” says the Sidney Kimmel Medical College student. “And when an orthopedic trauma surgeon I worked with in medical school let me use a drill and place some screws in a patient’s radius and ulna, it took me back to those crafty memories as a kid. Add the satisfaction of watching patients improve after surgery and that confirmed it all.”
However, sports medicine—and orthopedic surgery, in particular—are highly competitive specialties, and there’s a historic lack of diversity in the field, especially when it comes to Black women like Dees. Only 0.6% of orthopedic surgeons in the United States are Black women, according to Black Women Orthopaedic Surgeons.
When Sidney Kimmel Medical College was chosen to be part of the NFL Diversity in Sports Medicine Pipeline Initiative, Dees applied right away. She became one of only 30 people selected to participate in the program that provides med students from diverse backgrounds clinical rotations with an NFL team’s medical staff to encourage a career in sports medicine.
“Jefferson recognizes the paramount significance of the NFL Diversity in Sports Medicine Pipeline Initiative,” says Dr. Ronald Hall, associate professor of emergency medicine and assistant dean of diversity and student diversity programs at Sidney Kimmel Medical College. “This program serves as a pivotal catalyst in offering invaluable exposure to the fields of sports medicine and orthopedic surgery in professional sports. By expanding the pool of students interested in pursuing sports medicine careers, it fosters diversity and contributes to the advancement of the medical field. This endeavor is especially crucial considering the substantial representation of African American athletes in the NFL.
“However, the number of Black physicians and athletic trainers within the NFL remains a mere fraction of this figure,” Dr. Hall continues. “As we work toward creating a more inclusive and diverse landscape, we celebrate the remarkable achievements of Azra Dees and believe she’s truly worthy of this honor.”
This program serves as a pivotal catalyst in offering invaluable exposure to the fields of sports medicine and orthopedic surgery in professional sports. –Dr. Ronald Hall
Last month, Dees began her clinical rotation with the New York Jets, observing and participating in the care of players. She works directly with and under the supervision of the team’s orthopedic physicians, primary care physicians and athletic trainers, gaining basic medical knowledge, as well as exposure to patient care in sports medicine. Plus, Dees develops a network of sports medicine mentors.
She also observes practices and home games from the sidelines, becoming familiar with return-to-play guidelines and on-field treatment considerations for NFL players. In her first game, several Jets players left the contest with injuries.
“I’m excited about the opportunities to see the difference in treatment and recovery time for professional athletes versus what we often call ‘weekend warriors,’” Dees says. “The professional athlete-level has its own challenges and advantages. The NFL Diversity in Sports Medicine Pipeline Initiative is a wonderful way to get exposure to the field. I may discover I want to pursue a career as a professional team doctor.”
NBC10’s Deanna Durante interviews Azra Dees about her work with the Jets. Watch the segement below.