Next Woman Up: Alexandra Cancio-Bello, inaugural class member of the NFL Diversity in Sports Medicine Pipeline Initiative

Next Woman Up: Alexandra Cancio-Bello, inaugural class member of the NFL Diversity in Sports Medicine Pipeline Initiative

How did you become a member of the NFL Diversity in Sports Medicine Pipeline initiative?

I received an email from Howard University stating that they are partnering with the NFL for a once-in-a-lifetime orthopedic rotation. Otherwise, how better to learn orthopedics than football? So I applied and they told me that I had been accepted into the program. I was so excited to find out that I was going to be with the New York Giants because they are affiliated with the Hospital for Special Surgery, which is the premier orthopedic surgery hospital in the nation. I also learned that I would be working with Dr. Scott Rodeo and Dr. Samuel Taylor, who are titans in the field. It is very important to be able to work with them.

The fact that the Giants are having an incredible season this year is a bonus. I haven’t always followed football so I had to do some research before I started my rotation. I would say my time with the Giants was my first real football experience, which is the best you can have.

What are some of the things you did and/or learned during the month-long rotation?

Giants assistant coach Mike Baum has put together an incredible rotation schedule. Some days were shared between the Quest Diagnostics Training Center and the Hospital for Special Surgery. It was different every day and I was exposed to so many things. My favorite day of the week was Monday. I arrived at the training center around 7 am for the injury clinic. I was there with Dr. Rodeo, Dr. Taylor, Head Athletic Coach Ronnie Barnes, coaches and players. This is where I learned the most. Then in the afternoon, I went to the hospital to observe an operation.

I was at the training center on Tuesdays and Thursdays for training. People normally see injuries happen in a game, but it was during training that you could see why those injuries were happening. Watching the players drill and practice made me realize some things like why the defensive line has so many elbow injuries, and it could be because they do a lot of the same moves when trying to block.

I also went to three games, including the Giants game against Jacksonville. Traveling with the team was a great experience.

It’s great to hear that. What have been some of your biggest takeaways from the rotation?

It really takes a team to provide these athletes with the best care to keep them healthy and on the field. There are so many stakes and the players have so much pressure on them. In a normal sports medicine rotation, you might tell a patient to relax for a few weeks and slowly get back to normal. This is not the case with players. They came back every day and went to therapy, which isn’t always fun, but they have so much determination. Everyone from doctors to trainers plays such an important role in the whole process. Usually doctors refer patients to physical therapy, but it was really cool to see all the stages of recovery unfold and how crucial each stage is. The rehab aspect was also a big plus as I had never been exposed to it.

When you look back, is there anything that surprised you?

I was surprised at how welcoming everyone was. It was really refreshing. Orthopedic surgery is a very male-dominated field, much like the NFL, with all players being male. But they wanted me there and asked about school and residence. They made me feel very comfortable. It was easy to build relationships with the doctors, coaches, players and even head coach Brian Daboll who was super nice and made me feel welcome.

What was your favorite moment?

It must be the games. The intensity is something I’ve never felt before, and it’s hard to describe. Being there on the sidelines with the team, you can feel their total focus and the coaches and staff are equally focused. There’s one goal and that’s to win – and keep everyone healthy. But I would say my favorite moment was during the Giants-Texans game. Players were punching me on the way out of the field. It was a great feeling to be part of the team.

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