Tearing his ACL while water skiing gave this physician an inside perspective of his patients. “I’ve been there,” says Benton Emblom, MD, an orthopaedic surgeon at the Andrews Sports Medicine and Orthopaedic Center. Only half joking, he adds, “I always wished that I had had a shoulder injury, too.”
Clearly Emblom is dedicated. As team physician for the University of Alabama, Samford University, and Hoover High School, in the fall he finds himself virtually holding two jobs.
“People in the community think, ‘Oh, Andrew Sports Medicine, they just see athletes and pro athletes,’” he says. But he estimates two-thirds of his patients are weekend warriors who have pulled, fallen, or twisted the wrong way. “I do hip arthroscopy, so I see a lot of rotational athletes such as golfers, volleyball, and tennis players. The most common injuries we see on the field are ankle, shoulder, and concussions. In athletes, you have to consider external factors—moving parts, high energy force, among other things.”
In high school, the Dothan native was a wide receiver and place kicker as well as second baseman. He skied on the University of Alabama water ski team (where he tore his ACL) while earning his bachelor’s in chemistry and mathematics. In 2002, he graduated Magna Cum Laude from the University of Alabama School of Medicine, followed by an internal medicine internship at Baptist Health System, and residency in orthopaedic surgery at University Hospital. He completed his fellowship at the American Sports Medicine Institute in Birmingham.
Emblom has been with Andrew Sports Medicine for the past five years. “Our job upfront is almost like being a psychologist,” he says. “Most of these kids think their career is over. My mission is to alleviate their fear. My goal is not necessarily to explain to them how we’re going to fix their injury, but how we’re going to allow them to return to play.”
During football season, trainers and coaches begin calling on Sunday about injured athletes. “On Mondays, I’m typically in the OR,” Emblom says. On Tuesdays, he’s in the office, working in patients from out of town high schools. “Then we’ll go down to the University of Alabama after clinic to see football patients in the training room after practice, then other athletes from other sports.” Wednesdays mean more surgery, followed by the same training room routine at Samford. “This can be follow- up from surgery or new injuries,” he says. Thursdays are spent in the office, followed by super-packed weekends.
“Friday, I usually do about a half-day of surgery then I go to Hoover High School’s football games,” he says. “I typically have four little ducklings with me at the high school games.” He and wife Anna have two sets of twins, fraternal girls Ella and Camille, nine; and identical boys Lawton and Haston, age six.
On Saturday, he says, “I go to the college football games, whether home or away.” This past football season, for instance, he flew to Greenville, South Carolina to attend the Samford game at 12:30, and then returned to attend the 7 p.m. Alabama game in Tuscaloosa.
“We’re there to evaluate kids who get injured and make the decision about whether they can go back into the game or come out indefinitely,” he says. Coaches differ in terms of how conservative or aggressive they are about playing kids. “Different coaches have different expectations and different ways of handling injured players,” Emblom says. “Some are more involved in trying to understand the injury and trying to tailor a position or playing time to an injury.”
Whatever the coach’s philosophy, “It doesn’t change the way that we do things from a surgical or evaluation perspective. But it might change the way we manage the case. All of the coaches we’ve ever worked with have had the buck stop with us. None would ever overrule what the physician says.”
Being a team doctor has its perks. “We make important decisions that affect who the coaches play and how they play them. The trainers and coaches look to us for answers. Sports medicine allows you to be part of the team and have team camaraderie and a sense of accomplishment,” he says.
Combining his love for sports and his profession feels like a clear-cut victory for this doctor.