First year DO student Robert White at Southwest Sport & Spine Center

While medical students spend a whole lot of time hitting the books, a bulk of their education takes place outside of the classroom. To truly understand what it takes to work in the healthcare profession, they must experience firsthand what medical professionals from all types of specialties do on a daily basis. Partnerships between BCOM and local health facilities and hospitals are tantamount to the college’s success. One of the first Las Cruces clinics to jump on board with the school’s mission was Southwest Sport & Spine Center, Inc.

Deputy CEO and Certified Athletic Trainer David Gallegos has been in the local healthcare field working collaboratively with physical therapists and the sports medicine community for more than 25 years now. He said that, although they run physical therapy-based clinics, the work they do at Southwest Sport & Spine is also fundamentally educational. Both MD and DO residents from the local hospitals, as well as physical therapy and athletic training students from regional universities, all spend time shadowing with Gallegos and his team. Each semester, they also host approximately 50 future physicians from BCOM who get a chance to see a sector of healthcare they might not have considered exploring.

Physical therapy accounts for about 75 percent of the work at Southwest Sport & Spine. Sports medicine makes up another 10 percent, while the rest goes to services like work injury management, medically oriented fitness, and aquatic therapy. Just recently, they’ve partnered with the Fyzical Therapy & Balance Centers franchise and, in the coming months, will be offering hi-tech diagnostic tools catering to the needs of the large baby boomer population in the area. “Balance and fall prevention will be a major goal of the physical therapy field for the aging population and even sports performance.” The engaged staff has also collaborated with NMSU and UTEP on over 12 published journal articles.

DO student Michelle Reyes (in white coat) with Southwest Sport and Spine staff and an AT student.

“Shadowing” at Southwest Sport & Spine entails much more than just hovering in the background. Gallegos said, “There’s no standing around; the students get thrown in to the mix immediately. Our success is based on our evaluation and therapy technique. We’re very hands-on with the approach.”

Second year BCOM medical student Robyn Marks can attest to that claim. She spent a day working with Gallegos and called it “the biggest crash course ever into PT.” Very early into her rotation, she was standing in the corner listening and learning, when Gallegos pulled her into an exam room and told her to evaluate the patient. Hesitant at first, Marks referred back to what she’d learned doing standardized patient exams in class. “I took her history and David told me to keep going and do her physical too,” she said. “I wasn’t even sure if I was allowed to touch her, but she and her mom were excited to talk with a medical student. David started asking me questions as I went along—anatomy and sports related things we weren’t even expected to know, but he pushed me to use what I’d been learning. That was my very first interaction and it was the most intense 15 minutes ever, but then he did his own exam and agreed with my conclusions, and then let me work with her on her exercises. It was a really neat experience.”

Robyn Marks evaluates a young athlete.

Marks bombarded Gallegos with so many questions that he invited her to help out at some rugby tournaments where she received yet another total immersion experience that included evaluating everything from a broken clavicle to a torn ACL and conducting neurological evaluations on players with possible concussions. “He really challenged me,” she added. “We hadn’t even done neuro evaluations in class at that point, but when the time came, I’d already done so many at rugby that I was super comfortable with them.”

Marks also noted the close correlation between the work done at Southwest Sport & Spine and the osteopathic manipulative medicine (OMM) techniques DO students are required to learn. Gallegos admitted that an OMM background is extremely beneficial for the students that work in their clinics. “The Burrell students are really excelling,” he said. “Not only do they have that knowledge of anatomy and manipulations, but I’ve always appreciated how osteopaths really work to connect with their patients. We’re learning just as much from them as they are from us about clinical skills, compassion, and communication. I would say the DO students are hitting a home run here.”

Learn more about the Southwest Sport & Spine Center at swsportandspine.com.