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Getting a Leg Up

Getting a Leg UpWorking as a team physician with the U.S. Ski Team at the World Junior Championships was just another outlet for Tufts graduate Scott Sigman to combine his love of sports and medicine.

Medford/Somerville, Mass. [03.27.09] Even while patrolling the football and lacrosse fields as captain of both teams in high school, Scott Sigman knew where he would eventually end up: in the operating room.

"I felt like orthopedic surgery was the perfect meld for my personality, for my love of math and science and my love of sports," says the 1986 Tufts graduate, who majored in biology. "I put my blinders on and said from day one at Tufts that's what I wanted to do."

And while Sigman's career has proceeded just as he envisioned, treating injuries for athletes ranging from Little Leaguers to pro baseball players, he likely didn't foresee heading to the slopes of Slovakia with the U.S. Ski Team.

That's where he traveled this February, as a member of the team's medical staff during the International Ski Federation Junior Ski Jumping World Championships. The field included 250 athletes aged 14 to 18-many of whom are likely competitors in the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver-hailing from 23 countries. As the only non-emergency medical doctor on hand, Sigman was kept busy helping any athlete that needed attention, regardless of nationality.

"It was really 'throw your hat in and do whatever you can,'" he says. "I was treating everybody."

Sigman says the experience was thrilling, and the performance of the young athletes was inspirational.

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"I've treated a lot of athletes from a lot of different genres of sports, and these kids are just unbelievable, just the courage they have in what they do," he says. "They come flying down, and it sounds like a jet plane as they're sliding down this icy path that's ten stories above the ground...They just get out there and they do it."

Sigman can appreciate their focus and tenacity. After graduating from Tufts, where he also played lacrosse, he attended medical school at the University of Maryland. Sigman returned to Boston for his residency in orthopedic surgery at Tufts Medical Center, followed by a year-long fellowship at the Kerlan-Jobe Orthopaedic Clinic in Los Angeles, where he helped care for athletes on the city's pro sports teams.

It was a competitive path all the way, with orthopedic surgery proving both a tough and popular field. But Sigman's athletic background prepared him for that competition.

"If I could do it all over again, I wouldn't change a thing," says Sigman, who currently practices in Andover, Mass., and is also the team physician for the University of Massachusetts in Lowell.

Lately, Sigman has been taking his work to an international level. Last summer before the Olympics, he traveled to Beijing with three other doctors to train Chinese orthopedic surgeons on the latest techniques in knee and shoulder arthroscopy. Sigman says the trip was noteworthy due to the fact that in a population of 1.3 billion, only 600 shoulder surgeries were performed in the previous year-mostly for athletes.

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"It was really neat to be involved in helping to train this first generation of shoulder surgeons," he says.

It was in Beijing that he was approached by Dr. Andrew Chen, head doctor for the U.S. Ski Team, to join the team's medical staff.

Sigman will be back with the team for preliminary competition ahead of the Olympics and hopes he will be selected to join the team for the Olympics in Vancouver. In the meantime, he is looking forward to traveling to Bangkok later this year to train Australian orthopedic surgeons, with a similar trip to England possibly on the horizon, as well.

For Sigman, part of the reward of being an orthopedic surgeon is "the real demonstrable difference you make in people's lives almost immediately. People walk in, they can't lift their arm, they can't move their knee, they can't walk, they've had an injury. What you do is evaluate their problem and help fix them and get them healthy."

Sigman recalls a young female patient whose knee was injured so badly she could barely walk. After treatment, she sent him a picture of herself walking atop the Great Wall of China, thanking him for his work.

"That's the real reason I love the job," says Sigman.

Profile by Georgiana Cohen, Office of Web Communications. Photos courtesy of Scott Sigman

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