Sports Neurologist Dr. Vernon Williams is Today’s Honoree

VernonWilliamsSports Neurology and Pain Medicine found me. I can’t say that I ever had a revelation to choose these fields of medicine. I didn’t carefully consider and weigh the options or agonize over a decision to pursue this or that medical career. My practice found me.

As a high school junior I was approached by my guidance counselor (who I can honestly say I had never had more than a few conversations with…ever) about whether I was interested in a summer job as a research assistant at Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit. My response? “I guess so. As long as it doesn’t interfere with football practice.” I was a good student. I was in the chemical biology curriculum at Cass Tech High School. But so were many of my friends. Why was I asked? I didn’t know. Why was I assigned to the Department of Neurology basic science lab? I didn’t know. Not then. But I do now. I was being set up.

Two years later, I applied to college at two schools: Yale University and the University of Michigan (U-M). I was accepted to both. I could choose Yale, where I would play football and room with a good friend from my high school football team. He went on to play there. I did not. I chose U-M after having been informed that I was accepted into their prestigious Inteflex Accelerated Pre-Med/Medical Program. Interestingly enough, I was accepted by mistake. Sort of. I checked “yes” next to the box requesting consideration for the Inteflex Program on my draft-copy application to U-M. After visiting the campus and learning how competitive and difficult the program was (as well as how impossible acceptance would likely be), I decided NOT to check that box on the actual application. The second/”live” application, with the polished and re-written essay, wouldn’t be unnecessarily cluttered with an unrealistic dream of acceptance into Inteflex. I thought, “Just accept me into the regular university Bachelor of Science program, thank you.” Besides, I was leaning towards Yale anyway. Only I misplaced the second/”live” application and was forced to turn in the original draft-copy at the 11 th hour. The Inteflex box had been checked “Yes” for consideration on that application. I was accepted.

During my first year of Neurology residency in Baltimore, my chief resident asked if I was interested in a moonlighting job. Not in an E.R. or doing insurance physicals like many of the other residents, but in a clinical trials center where I would interview and examine patients with various types of headaches. Three years later, I had taken medical histories on and examined thousands of patients with headaches, and had acted as a primary or sub-investigator on dozens of clinical trials related to migraines.

My former chief resident was now on staff at Johns Hopkins and offered to introduce me to the director of the Pain Management fellowship program. I was offered a fellowship position in the Department of Anesthesiology and Critical Care where I was able to pursue a year and a half of intensive clinical training in Headache, clinical trials training in Headache, and interventional training in Pain Management with internationally renowned experts in these respective fields.

About 8-10 months into my fellowship program at Johns Hopkins, my fellowship director suggested that I contact an orthopedic surgery group in Los Angeles that was recruiting a non-operative spine and pain specialist. They were also interested in a Neurologist. Maybe with me, they could kill two birds with one stone. At the time, my immediate reaction was negative, to put it mildly. I liked the East Coast. My family was back in Michigan. What on earth would possess me to relocate 3,000 miles to Los Angeles? Well, let’s just say a trip to L.A. can be a powerful thing for a young man born and raised in Detroit. Especially if that young man is an athlete and sports fan (who achingly missed the opportunity to play college football) being interviewed by the premier sports medicine group in the country. When I accepted the offer to interview I had no idea Kerlan-Jobe Orthopaedic Clinic’s physicians were team doctors for every major sports team in southern California. A neurologist… practicing pain medicine…in an orthopedic clinic…in Los Angeles. I can’t pretend to have planned or pursued this beginning to a medical practice. Simply put, my practice found me.

I joined the Kerlan-Jobe Orthopaedic Clinic in 1997 and initially developed a multidisciplinary pain program by adding pain psychology, biofeedback, acupuncture, and alternative physical therapy techniques under the Pain Management umbrella. My next goal was to develop more “Sports Neurology” activities and significantly expand into the areas of concussion and head injury as well as evaluation and management of neurologic consequences of sports and other types of performance. Cosmetic neurology and the concept of maximizing neurological function, not only in the diseased and afflicted, but also in the healthy population interested me. Peak performance and assisting those interested in being “better than well” became a goal. As such, the Kerlan-Jobe Center for Sports Neurology and Pain Medicine was born.

I have also augmented my clinical accomplishments with teaching and training activities. I founded and direct the Kerlan-Jobe Sports Neurology Fellowship Program, only the second of its kind in the United States. I routinely educate physician specialists as course director and/or lecturer at national and international meetings. I also enjoy educating the lay public through community-based talks and seminars focused on concussion, safe participation in sports and pain management. Finally, I carefully designed and grew a non-traditional form of “teaching” by developing a medical-legal consultative practice. I perform medical records reviews, Independent Medical Examinations, expert reports, expert witness testimony, second-opinion evaluations, and attorney consultative services as part of this practice. It provides me with the opportunity to use my communication skills and “teach” by taking complex medical information and providing expert, objective, and non-biased information in a way that is valuable and understandable to all stakeholders, including adjusters, attorneys, judges, jury members, and/or mediators and arbitrators.

For the past 20 years, I have made the field of Sports Neurology my life’s work. I am actively engaged in researching and developing innovative and effective treatments and technologies that help people recognize symptoms of a neurological injury sooner, so that the work of treating them can happen faster, and with less potential for permanent damage.

I serve as a neurological medical consultant to local professional sports organizations such as the Los Angeles Dodgers, Los Angeles Lakers, Los Angeles Kings and Los Angeles Sparks. I also assist local college and numerous high schools and youth sports/club athletic teams in this capacity. Living and breathing this field of medicine means striving to educate every athletic population I can about the need for serious attention to neurological injury risks in players at every level of the game.

Visit Dr. Vernon Williams for more information.

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