At the major league level
Inspired by a legendary Rochester faculty member, team physicians care for the high-performance athlete.
With the Major League Baseball season in full swing, David Lintner, M.D. (M ’86, R ’91), steps into his most enjoyable, and perhaps his busiest, time of the year.
In addition to being chief of sports medicine at The Methodist Hospital in Houston, Lintner also is the head team physician for the Houston Astros, a position he has held since 2000. He is a past president of the Major League Baseball Team Physicians Association and a member of the Baseball Commissioner’s Medical Advisory Committee.
“This is my 18th year working with the Astros and it is the most enjoyable part of my practice,” Lintner said. “I enjoy being in the athletic environment, the environment of competition. I enjoy the challenge that it presents. Players in the major leagues are the highest performing guys in their field. Being able to maintain that top level of performance can be quite difficult for them. If a player gets hurt, it becomes a challenge for team physicians.”
Lintner, who also is the team orthopaedist for the Houston Texans of the National Football League, is one of several University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry graduates who have landed positions with Major League Baseball teams and other major sports teams.
James Williams, M.D. (M ’89), director of Cleveland Clinic Orthopaedic Surgery at Euclid Hospital, is an assistant team physician for the Cleveland Indians and a consultant for the Cleveland Cavaliers. Orr Limpisvasti, M.D. (M ’98), who is part of the nationally known Kerlan-Jobe Orthopaedic Clinic, is an orthopaedic consultant with the Los Angeles Angels and the head orthopaedic surgeon for the Anaheim Ducks Hockey, a National Hockey League team.
And there are most likely several others because of Rochester’s strong program in sports medicine. Jan Fronek, M.D. (M ’78), of the Scripps Clinic, for example, is head team physician for the San Diego Padres. Elliott Hershman, M.D. (M ’79), is team physician for the New York Islanders hockey team. He also is chairman of the NFL injury and safety panel and team orthopaedist for the New York Jets.
Lintner, Williams and Limpisvasti each cite Kenneth E. DeHaven, M.D., now professor emeritus at the School of Medicine and Dentistry, as a primary inspiration for their careers. DeHaven, a Rochester faculty member since 1975 most recognized for his work on the meniscus and meniscus repair, was one of the first to utilize arthroscopy in an orthopaedic sports medicine practice. He is a past president of the American Orthopaedic Society for Sports Medicine and the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons.
“He is regarded as one of the fathers of sports medicine,” Lintner said. “Through the years, the number of Rochester medical students who worked with Dr. DeHaven and the number of physicians who did their orthopaedic residency at Rochester and then went into sports medicine is quite large. I think the subgroup who became team physicians at the professional sports level is unmatched for any residency in the country.”
In medical school, Lintner initially was interested in internal medicine and pointed toward family medicine. He spent one summer in research with DeHaven, also following him in the clinic and operating room.
“I loved the way he took care of his patients, his attention to detail in surgery and the nature of his patient population,” Lintner said. “And you got to spend part of a day on the sidelines, training room or at practice. That seemed more like fun and not work. He was and is a superb role model.”
Williams, who coached skiing and soccer and earned a master’s degree in sports management before going to medical school, first met DeHaven through a ski club near Rochester.
“The greatest thing I learned from Rochester was how to talk to patients,” Williams said. “That’s a lost art these days. Patients want doctors to talk with them. From day one, Rochester is about listening to the patients. I remember when I was a student watching a video of DeHaven doing a physical exam. I still do a physical that way today.”
As a medical student, Limpisvasti spent several weeks working with DeHaven.
“I loved what he did for patients and they seemed to really appreciate his attention to their athletic goals,” Limpisvasti said. “What I didn't know at the time was how big a figure he was in the field of orthopedic sports medicine. I just found him to be the kind of doctor I wanted to be one day.”
In Major League Baseball, a team’s head physician is responsible for maintaining the health and well-being of the players throughout the entire organization and for providing game coverage for the team.
“You have to be available 24/7 for any issue, coordinating care whether a player needs a dermatologist or an internist,” said Lintner. “I am responsible for making sure it all gets done regardless of where the team is.”
For the Astros, Lintner spends “a fair amount of time” at spring training. He evaluates injuries and treatments, helping the organization make decisions on how long an athlete might be out of the game. He also goes over the medical records of every player and prospect the team is considering to gauge risk of injury.
Williams also attends spring training for several weeks. He covers about a quarter of the Indians home games. And for several years, he evaluated all the organization’s minor league players and hundreds of players in the baseball draft.
Â “It might seem a little glamorous,” Lintner said. “But there is a lot more tedium than you would expect. It helps to be good with people, to interact well with athletes and understand their fears and concerns.”
Returning patients to a very high level of performance is the attraction of sports medicine, Limpisvasti said.
“There is a lot of gratification in taking someone through surgery and rehabilitation with the goal of a more active lifestyle or even professional athletics, and in improving the quality of their lives,” Limpisvasti said.
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