As Cameron Harris drove home Sunday night from the Las Vegas Raiders game with the Pittsburgh Steelers at Allegiant Stadium, the Kirk Kerkorian School of Medicine at UNLV student who had been on the sideline with NFL club medical staff talked about the sports medicine clinical rotation he just completed with the Raiders.
“Before this experience over the summer (it culminated with the Raiders first home game), I never really thought sports medicine could be an opportunity for me,” he said during a phone call, one in a series of interviews during his clinical rotation. “But now I see it as a real possibility. As I shadowed them, everyone on the Raiders medical staff was eager to help me. I saw how they evaluated injuries during practices and during a game, how they decided whether imaging had to be done, how they dealt with possible concussions, and so much more.”
Dr. Navdeep Singh, MD, chief medical officer for the Raiders, said he found Harris, who is scheduled to graduate from medical school next year, “a sponge for knowledge,” exactly the kind of energetic and focused medical student who could benefit from the NFL Diversity in Sports Medicine Pipeline Initiative that was developed to encourage medical students from diverse backgrounds to consider sports medicine careers.
“Cameron is very driven and caring, and it shows,” Singh said.
The NFL diversity program – supported by the NFL Physicians Society and Professional Football Athletic Trainers Society – is now in its second year, driven by research that shows a diverse medical staff leads to improved patient outcomes. Last year, it was composed of students from four historically black colleges and universities (HBCU) medical schools. In 2023, student participants joined NFL clubs from 19 medical schools across the country.
Roberto Aguayo, Jr., the medical school’s diversity coordinator, learned about the program and made Harris aware of it. An African American pursuing postgraduate residency training in orthopaedics, Harris says the program has “exposed me to a whole different world of possibilities,” including working with recreation, school, and university athletic programs.
Harris was impressed by the fact that there are over 30 health care professionals at each NFL stadium ready to give care to athletes on game day, including physicians, athletic trainers, emergency response physicians, an EMTs/paramedics crew, airway management physician, neurotrauma consultants, and athletic trainer injury spotters.
An hour before the kickoff between the Raiders and Steelers, Harris was on hand for the “60 Minute Meeting” that occurs before each NFL game. Then, medical staff from both clubs, unaffiliated medical staff, and referees gather to review emergency preparedness that includes identifying resources like X-ray, transport carts, and ambulance location. Stadium exits are confirmed as is the area’s Level I Trauma Center (UMC) and other area hospitals. How to handle emergencies ranging from cardiac care to spinal injuries are discussed. Twice a year, Singh says, every NFL team is required to drill for on the field emergencies that include head, neck, spinal, and chest injuries in addition to seizures and heart problems.
“They want to make the best care available to the athletes,” said Harris, who during the summer shadowed Raider physicians working with players either at the team’s Henderson practice facility or at their private clinics.
During his rotation, he followed primary care sports medicine physicians William Rosenberg, MD, and Jessica Zarndt, DO, and orthopaedic physicians Chad Hanson, MD; Kyle Hancock, MD; and Michael Miao, MD. They dealt with everything from cramping and nutrition to complex knee and hip injuries. “I had one day where I scrubbed in for sports medicine surgeries,” Harris said. Singh said Harris came to appreciate the basic facets of care provided to NFL players from an orthopaedic, primary care sports medicine, and athletic training perspective.
Harris also met several Raider players and the team’s staff during the summer, including Las Vegas Raiders President Sandra Douglass Morgan, head coach Josh McDaniels, general manager Dave Ziegler, the 2022-2023 NFL rushing leader Josh Jacobs, all-pro wide receiver Davante Adams, sack leader Maxx Crosby, and offensive lineman Kolton Miller. Harris describes Miller as “the biggest man I’ve ever seen, simply huge.” Miller is 6 foot 9 inches tall and weighs 330 pounds. “The team and staff all treated me like I was part of the Raider family,” Harris said. “Not only did I learn a lot during my rotation, it was the most fun I’ve had in medical school.”
The more Harris thought about the athletes he was talking with every day, many as they received care, the more impressed he became. Statistically, only 1.6 percent of college football players make it to the NFL. “They’re among the best of the best at what they do,” he said. “So, as a physician, you obviously want them to be able to perform at their highest level.”
Singh, an internal medicine specialist trained in pulmonary and critical care, points out that emergency preparedness played a large role in keeping Buffalo Bills safety Damar Hamlin alive last year when he collapsed on the field from cardiac arrest during a January game with the Cincinnati Bengals. Hamlin has returned to the Bills’ roster.
Harris decided while he was in elementary school that he wanted a career in medicine.
“When I was a child, my sister was diagnosed with cancer, acute lymphoblastic leukemia. She is now healthy and cancer free, but I remember going to all of the doctor's appointments and treatments with her and my family. Ultimately, those health care professionals saved her life and made me feel inspired to want to help others in the same way. I decided that it would be my mission to also help others from the physician role.”
It wasn’t until his third year of medical school, while working with an orthopaedic trauma service as an elective, that he decided on a career in orthopaedic surgery.
“Many people, myself included, identify by and value their body’s ability to perform the physical activities of daily life. The inability to perform those functions can be devastating. I want to help restore what people may have lost.”
His time with the Raiders only made Harris more sure of his choice of orthopaedics.
“I’ve seen how orthopaedic surgery has made it possible for these great athletes to continue to do what they love, how much it means to them. During my life, I’d like to help make it possible for all people to access the care that allows them to regain their mobility, alleviate pain, and restore their quality of life. It is both a privilege and a responsibility that I wholeheartedly embrace.”