Dec 20, 2016
Open for Business-Part 1
Tom Belmaggio

Despite offering similar services, it’s rare to find two sports medicine clinics that are exactly alike. In fact, these facilities can be just as diverse as the patients they serve.

Some stand out more than others, however, due to a unique approach. Whether it’s their organizational structure, treatment methods, or location, clinics that try something new redefine care and expand the reaches of sports medicine.

Marshall University is home to two such facilitiesthe Marshall University Sports Medicine Institute (MSMI) and the Center for Wellness in the Arts. While one takes a comprehensive approach to care and the other addresses an underserved population, both are pushing the field forward by thinking outside the box. This week, we take a look at the MSMI.


Although its doors opened in July 2015, the building blocks for the MSMI were first laid 12 years before. At that time, Charles Giangarra, MD, Chief of Orthopedic Sports Medicine in Marshall Health’s Joan C. Edwards School of Medicine and Team Physician for Marshall athletics, had grown tired of shuttling injured athletes from one facility for imaging, to another for treatment, and then to a third for rehab. He wanted to create a comprehensive sports medicine center on campus that could treat patients from diagnosis through return to play.

Since few, if any, clinics like this existed at the time, the idea was groundbreaking in and of itself. However, what truly set Dr. Giangarra’s plan apart was his desire to go beyond the Marshall campus and open the facility to the active population of surrounding Huntington, W.Va. By providing advanced care to both Thundering Herd student-athletes and the general public, Dr. Giangarra hoped to make Marshall a nationwide leader in sports medicine.

To turn his vision into a reality, Dr. Giangarra knew he would need some help. So he banded together Marshall Health, Marshall athletics, Marshall Orthopaedics, and Cabell Huntington Hospital to get the ball rolling.

Over the next decade, we gradually checked off all the boxes required to get the MSMI off the ground. To start, it needed funding. The school acquired private donations for the MSMI through the Marshall University Vision Campaign that were then matched by the West Virginia Research Trust Fund’s “Bucks for Brains” initiative, which supports research and infrastructure aimed at improving economic development, health care, and job growth in the state. With funding secured, the MSMI was slated to be the final piece of the Chris Cline Athletic Complex, a 108,000-square-foot facility that houses a track, indoor practice facility, student-athlete academic center, and athletics hall of fame.

Throughout the MSMI’s first year of operation, the biggest lesson I’ve learned is the importance of communication… It won’t work if there are any turf wars. There needs to be open communication among all parties, and everyone from providers, to professionals, to clerical staff needs to be on the same page.

Next, we got all the equipment needed to treat patients under one roof. Using a combination of funds raised by Marshall athletics and budgeted by Cabell Huntington Hospital and Marshall Health, we acquired an X-ray machine, Fluoroscan, and the tools to perform platelet-rich-plasma injections. We also bought plunge tanks and an underwater treadmill for the planned hydrotherapy room and purchased an anti-gravity treadmill, thermostim machine, laser technology, active compression and cold therapy system, balance system, sports simulator, and compression boots to put in the treatment rooms.

As construction progressed and we got closer to completing the MSMI, we realized it was time to make athletes on and off campus aware of our new clinic. However, we were concerned about getting the public to buy in to the benefits of having all sports medicine services under one roof. After all, our competitors had been staples in the community for years, so we had to convince patients to try our facility.

We did this by rolling out a major marketing campaign before the MSMI opened. Branding it “the region’s game changer,” we shot a series of commercials to spread the word.

Our promotional efforts paid off, and we’ve had a steady stream of patients since we opened our doors. True to Dr. Giangarra’s vision, the 22,000-square-foot MSMI is staffed by a comprehensive team of orthopedic surgeons, family practice physicians, pediatric physicians, pediatric neurologists, athletic trainers, physical therapists, massage therapists, chiropractors, nurses, nutritionists, sports psychologists, and strength and conditioning coaches.

Marshall athletes have access to their own athletic training room within the MSMI, and our physical therapists work with the athletic department’s sports medicine staff to treat them. The public can see physicians from Marshall Orthopaedics and physical therapists from Cabell Huntington Hospital. Each group shares the MSMI’s technology, equipment, and hydrotherapy room.

To ensure we have the greatest impact possible, we offer patients access in a variety of ways. Besides making an appointment, they can visit our walk-in clinic from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., Monday through Friday. Marshall students can receive treatment Monday through Friday at a free walk-in clinic inside the campus rec center. The MSMI also provides outreach athletic training to five local high schools and holds a free Saturday morning clinic from August 1 to June 1.

Beyond offering comprehensive sports medicine care, the MSMI specializes in concussion management and performance training. We hold a concussion clinic every Wednesday, during which a physician, neurologist, and psychologist provide comprehensive baseline and follow-up concussion testing. In addition, the MSMI formed the Marshall Concussion Consortium, a group of regional medical practitioners who regularly meet at our facility to discuss concussion care.

Through a partnership with STACK Sports Performance, we also offer elite training and testing to increase patients’ explosive power, speed, agility, and quickness. A “Bridge Program” features post-rehabilitation training in collaboration with the MSMI’s physical therapists, as well. Although these services are used primarily by the general public, we do work with Marshall athletes who are preparing for their professional playing careers.

Throughout the MSMI’s first year of operation, the biggest lesson I’ve learned is the importance of communication. Other schools looking to start a similar sports medicine institute must know that it won’t work if there are any turf wars. There needs to be open communication among all parties, and everyone from providers, to professionals, to clerical staff needs to be on the same page.

Before the MSMI, Marshall University didn’t have the means to be a leader in sports medicine. Now that we do, we’re eager to develop standards of comprehensive care that others can adopt. Regardless of whether our patients are Marshall athletes or weekend warriors, we know our services have come together to elevate their treatment to the next level.

This article first appeared in the July/August 2016 issue of Training & Conditioning.

Tom Belmaggio, MS, ATC, CSCS, is Sports Medicine Program Coordinator for the Marshall University Sports Medicine Institute. He previously spent eight years as the school's Head Athletic Trainer. He can be reached at: [email protected].

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