Employee Q&A: Sports Physician Donald Porter

Employee Q&A: Sports Physician Donald Porter

By Alexis BlueUniversity Communications
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As team physician, Donald Porter has traveled the nation with UA athletes.
As team physician, Donald Porter has traveled the nation with UA athletes.

Donald Porter

Physician/Head Team Physician, Campus Health/Arizona Athletics

Number of years at the UA

Favorite part about working at the UA
"I like the teaching part ... (and) the opportunity to interact with kids and help them through some of their tough times. ... It's fun to see them grow up. A lot of them come here as kids and they leave here as young adults."

He's known by many of his patients as "Doc P.," the man who stitches up cuts and treats medical problems for the University of Arizona's student-athlete population.

Whether he's examining sprained ankles on the sidelines of the football field or treating flu symptoms in McKale Memorial Center's Kasser Medical Treatment Center, Dr. Donald Porter helps keep athletes healthy so they can be at the top of their game.

A Campus Health Service physician, Porter splits his time between seeing general members of the campus community at Campus Health and working as head team physician with Arizona Athletics. He also works one half day a week at University Physicians Healthcare's Arizona Institute for Sports Medicine.

Porter's work often extends beyond a normal daytime shift as he attends Wildcat sporting events and practices both on campus and on the road. Two maps in his office – one of the United States and one of the world – are pierced with colorful pins marking all the places he's traveled with teams for away games, including Australia and Italy.

Porter, who received an undergraduate degree in biology from the UA in 1975 and went on to complete medical school at the UA, talked with Lo Que Pasa about his work with student-athletes and the excitement and challenges of doing medicine on the sidelines.    

Which games do you work?
For football, there's always a physician on the sidelines, and up until I started getting some help (from Campus Health physicians a few years ago) I went to every single football game, home and away. There's always a physician on the road with the football team – a primary care physician such as myself and an orthopedic doctor, and they're volunteer docs from the community. We don't pay them. We also have medical coverage at all women's and men's basketball games, gymnastics (and soccer), the higher-risk sports. Then we're on call for the other sports. ... The athletic trainers are very well-educated so they can take care of a lot of stuff, but for the things that they don't feel comfortable (doing) and the things that their medical license doesn't allow them to cover, we're there.

You go to practices, too?
Yes, and it's nice because when I first started I was at all the practices, but now that I have help we divvy it up. So Monday is my day for practice. The athletic trainer is with them all the time; they're at every practice. The coaches have their phone number, the athletes have their phone number, so if an athlete over the Thanksgiving holiday ate some bad turkey and got sick, they're going to call their athletic trainer and the athletic trainer will tell them what to do, and then if it's something the athletic trainer can't handle they'll call me or one of my associates. ... (Athletic trainers are) people who have gone through four years of college, and most of them have advanced degrees, either a master's degree or a doctorate, and they're licensed by the state.

What do you do when you have an injured player who wants to play anyway?
The athlete's health is always No. 1. That's over what the coach wants, it's over what the parents want, it's over what the athlete themselves want. It's always (a question of) what's the best thing for the athlete? ... For instance, someone sprains their ankle during a football game, we'll see them on the sidelines, we'll look at them, and if it's appropriate to allow return to play, we'll tape them back up and make sure that it's nothing more than an ankle sprain, and then we'll put them on the sideline and make them run up and down, simulating football situations. We'll make them do so some cuts and see if they can do it and we'll see how much they're grimacing in pain. ... If it's just more of a pain-type thing, and we feel that there's no chance that they can do further damage, we'll let them go. ... If it's something like a concussion then we just don't even let them go. ... There have been times when I've held people out and I've feared for my life because (they are) these big huge hulking (guys) – and I'm 6 (foot) 3 (inches tall) so I'm not a shrinking violet –  but I've had people say, "I need to get in there, I need to get in there," and I physically felt almost threatened. And I said, "You can't go in." And then after the game they would come to me and say, "Doc, I'm glad you held me out because I had no business being in there."

What's it like to do medicine on the sidelines?
It's different, it's a lot different. I worked for an HMO for about seven years before I took this job, and there are things that we do (here) that if someone were to look at it from the outside they would think, "Oh, my God." For instance, we were in Australia, we were in Sydney, and one of our former players ...  got a cut over (on) his head. We tried to go to the hospital. It was going to be about a four-hour wait. So I had brought with me, in this huge medical kit, a suture kit. We took him to the hotel, took the shade of the lamp and the athletic trainer held the light over his head and we washed him out, put some clean towels around there and basically sewed him up in the hotel room. ... So a lot of it is on the fly. We're doing stuff where you have to make these quick decisions. If one of our players were at a game-winning drive and something happens, you have to make some quick decisions to get them back in. A lot of times it's crazy. There's times when we've had people who've had a concussion and we need to actually have someone from the equipment staff take their helmet, take their mouth piece so they can't go back in, and sneak up and (try to) grab someone else's helmet and go back in. ... There have been times when I've had a quarterback out and the coach is in my face, spitting in my face, "Can he go? Can he go?" And I'm saying. "Coach, you need to leave me alone so I can evaluate him so I can let you know whether he can go."

Are you able to enjoy the games when you're working?
I can for the most part. It depends on how busy we are. I remember the very first Final Four I went to – I'd watched a ton of them on TV and I thought, "Oh, this is going to be great because they introduce all the guys and, great, I get to watch this. Well, right before that happened, they called me. "Doc, Doc, they need you!" What had happened is our mascot – we were playing Arkansas – and Arkansas' mascot had got into a little tussle, and the Razorback blindsided Wilbur the Wildcat at the knees and basically blew out his ACL (anterior cruciate ligament). So here I am waiting for the introduction, I'm waiting for the game, and all of a sudden, "Doc, Doc, they need you!" So I go there and Wilbur is wailing. ... I take him back in the training room, so I missed the introductions, and I was so looking forward to that. ... But for the most part (I enjoy the games).  Football, sometimes you miss stuff because the game's going on over here and you have your back (to it) and you're evaluating an athlete so you have to be careful. A lot of times when action comes to the sideline, if you have your back turned, you can get wiped out. We've had a number of athletic trainers get wiped out. People have Fantasy Football; the athletic trainers have this thing called the Trampled Trainer Pool. We don't bet or anything, but basically what happens is they take a guess on who's going to get whacked on the sidelines, and since I've been there the longest I always get to pick first. I've never gotten trampled before but people are waiting for the doc to go down.

What's your favorite UA sport to watch?
Basketball, men's and women's basketball. My wife (Leslie Porter, director of consulting and talent management for UA Human Resources) played women's basketball (for Arizona). ... And probably the main reason (I like it) is I played basketball in high school, and up until four years ago I played myself. Probably a close second would be football, if I'm on the sidelines, because it's such a different perspective there. You can hear the hits a lot more, you can hear the trash talking, you can see the coaches going back and forth, you can hear the guys going back and forth, so I am really, really spoiled watching football games. A good friend of ours is a coach for the Philadelphia Eagles. We went up to see them when they played the (Arizona) Cardinals last year for the right to go to the Super Bowl. I had to sit in the stands and my poor wife was hearing me moaning about how I needed to be on the sidelines.

You also teach?
Yes, I'm on the adjunct faculty in the department of orthopedics and (department of) family practice (family and community medicine). ... The thing that's kept me really excited is about five years ago we started a fellowship here (the UA Primary Care Sports Medicine Fellowship) where we teach doctors how to do sports medicine. .... So that keeps you fresh, because in order to teach something you have to really know it. ... And they help us out a lot, so it's kind of a win-win for both of us. We teach them, they help us out a lot.

Do you know someone who has an interesting job at the UA? Send his or her name and contact information to lqp@email.arizona.edu for consideration for a future Employee Q&A.

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