A Physician Who Knows Things Only Professional Athletes Know

Sep 28, 2021 at 12:18 pm by pj


 Bruce Thomas, MD, Orlando Health Jewett Orthopedic Institute


Dr. Bruce Thomas of Orlando Health Jewett Orthopedic Institute (JOI) treats some of the most elite athletes in the world. He brings this special knowledge to the treatment of all patients who want to enjoy a better degree of physical activity.

Ask Thomas how to become the go-to orthopedic physician to some of the best athletes in the world and he’ll tell you it starts by saying “yes.”

“I tell the residents and fellows here (JOI) to just say yes when you have an opportunity to cover something, even if it doesn’t sound that thrilling. Do it and make some friends and you never know what will come of it.”

You get the feeling that Thomas says yes a lot. First, he said yes to the high school football teams that needed an orthopedic doctor on site at Friday night games. Then he said yes to a baseball team that needed a doctor with a sports medicine accreditation for spring training, then to a minor league team, then to a major league team during the regular season. Then to another major league team, then to… you get the idea.

These days he provides care to the Ladies Professional Golf Association (LPGA) Tour and the Washington Nationals baseball team and their Florida operations. But when we spoke, he was on his way to Tokyo to help at the Summer Olympics.

If the world of professional athletes is small, the world of physicians who care for those athletes is even smaller. But Thomas, whose great uncle, Waite Hoyt, is in the Baseball Hall of Fame and whose father played in baseball’s Minor League, grew up with a love for sports, a fascination for biology and habit of saying yes.

“My parents tell me that on my fourth or fifth birthday I asked for a dissection kit so I could dissect a frog,” he said. And then in the third grade he signed up for Russian language classes in school. “It was during the Cold War, and they promised we wouldn’t have to do homework if we took Russian.”

Now, there are not a lot of Russian speaking baseball players. But some people say that if you start speaking a difficult foreign language at an early age, learning other foreign languages as an adult is much easier. That’s apparently true in Thomas’ case, for he has found himself learning bits of Mandarin while on a Major League Baseball initiative in China, chatting with Korean golfers on the LPGA Tour and developing a conversational fluency in Spanish while caring for Latino and Hispanic baseball players.

“Working in baseball (where many players come from Latin America), I figured out pretty fast I better learn Spanish,” he said.  

So, you might think that a multilingual doctor who travels the world, who owns two World Series Championship rings (Florida Marlins 1997 and Washington Nationals 2019), and who spends vast amounts of time with people who can drive a golf ball 300 yards or throw a 95-mph fastball isn’t going to be that interested in your twisted knee. You would be wrong.

“I had a patient the other day ask me ‘What do you like better, treating famous athletes or treating me?’” said Thomas. “And I said I like treating you both equally. There is a different slant to each situation, but they overlap wonderfully.

“What I tell the patients is that I like to take the techniques and therapies I’ve learned keeping those athletes on the field and bring them to the ‘weekend warrior,’ the people who are doing sports for pleasure or for fitness. That is my thing. I really love taking the tricks you learned at the highest level and bringing them into my Orlando Health practice.”

Dr. Thomas emphasizes the concept of the lifelong athlete.

“For many people the sport they are participating in is just as important to them as it is to the professional athlete who competes for a living. I really enjoy being able to help patients keep doing the activities they love.

“Just a generation or two ago, if you were 35 and went to the doctor because it hurt to jog, the doctor would tell you to stop jogging. That’s why the field of Sports Medicine was created.”

Thomas is especially excited about the new Orlando Health Jewett Orthopedic Institute that’s scheduled to open in 2023. The 370,000 square foot facility will assemble all the orthopedic specialties under one roof with a goal of becoming a center of excellence for the Southeastern United States.

“That’s going to be a game-changer for us to have all of our orthopedic resources in one place,” he said.

Many of Thomas’ patients have been treated using platelet rich plasma (PRP) injections and bioregenerative therapies which use a patient’s own platelets and ultrasound technology to deliver the platelets directly to the area of injury.

“This therapy is especially useful in treating soft tissue injuries and refractory arthritis for people who are not candidates for joint replacement. Stem cells, also from the patient’s own body, are out there, so we are hoping that with the new facility we will be able to introduce that.”

It’s all about keeping people active and doing what they enjoy.

“It’s unquestioned that physical and mental health are linked. People need to be active,” he said. “I have a patient who is 104 years-old and he is a table tennis champion in his age group. Playing table tennis is as important to him as playing football is to Tom Brady.”

Thomas’ advice to the average weekend athlete who might have pushed things too hard:  “Don’t try your home remedy for too long and don’t tolerate pain for too long. We have resources now that would make the average patient’s head spin over what we can do now. Just come in and see.”

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