On the Sidelines – An Interview with Dr. Robert Wyker

March 7, 2017 | Robert T. Wyker, MD

It’s March … which means March Madness upon us! Raleigh Orthopaedic has the privilege of being on the sidelines during the entire college basketball season as the Official Team Physicians for North Carolina State University. Dr. Robert Wyker, Director of Orthopaedic Care for N.C. State University, discusses the role of team physician for a collegiate sports team.

What does it mean to be a team physician for North Carolina State University?

NC State’s team physician’s work alongside the trainers to care for the athlete’s injuries and determine when it is safe for the player to resume his/her sport.  The physicians attend to the athletes on a regular, weekly basis on campus and, additionally attend many athletic events.  The vast majority of the time that an NC State physician sees an athlete, it is for non-operative care.  However, the physicians are always available to see athletes on an emergent basis when an injury occurs or a condition develops.  These patients are worked into the physician’s office hours or, more commonly, the physician will see the athlete on State’s campus facilities.

How long have you been a team physician for the basketball team?

I have been an NC State physician for nearly 30 years (starting in 1987).

How do the players differ from other patients seen in the practice?

The athletes differ from other patients in several ways.  First, while the two types of patients are mostly similar, the athletes tend to exercise at a much higher and frequent level and cannot afford to be away from their training for a long stretch of time.  Second, an athlete tends to have a high level of motivation to return to their elite physical level as soon as possible and tend to be much more compliant with their rehabilitation.  Finally, because athletes are generally in excellent physical condition at the outset, they have a better chance of complete recovery in a minimum period of time.

How do you work with the other staff of the team?

NC State physicians work alongside and in consultation with the trainers as well as non-orthopedic doctors as the need arises.  The trainers and the physicians work collaboratively to determine the best treatment for the athletes.

Where are the team physicians during the game?

During men’s basketball games, the NC State physicians are seated directly behind the players on the court.   Three of ROC’s NC State physicians try to attend all of the men’s home basketball games.  The basketball away games are covered by one of the physicians who travel with the team, attending various practices, shoot-arounds and the games while on the road.  NC State physicians will take care of opposing players if needed, but most teams today travel with their own doctors.

Do you take care of the athletes outside of the actual games?

The NC State physicians hold weekly office hours on campus whenever school is in session and are available whenever needed.  Athletes who need to be seen are worked into a physician’s schedule the same day if possible.

What has being a team physician meant to you personally?

Being a team physician for NC State has been one of my greatest pleasures.  I enjoy collegiate athletics immensely and I also enjoy interacting with the athletes, coaches and trainers.  I feel that my services are greatly appreciated and that I am an integral part of the NC State team.  Watching young student athletes grow and develop both athletically and socially is rewarding in and of itself.

What are the most common basketball injuries? And how can players prevent these injuries?

Most commonly basketball players incur ankle and knee sprains, hand and foot injuries and assorted bruises.  Less common are ACL tears, meniscus injuries and fractures. Some of these injuries are simply part of playing basketball in the hard-fought ACC.  Good off season conditioning and training to keep the athlete’s body in top shape helps to prevent many injuries.

Have you treated any unusual cases?

Over the years, I have treated a wide variety of cases involving men’s basketball and multiple other sports at NC State.  I have employed cadaver grafts to reconstruct knees which allowed athletes to continue to play at a high level with a defect that would have spelled the end of his career in earlier times.  I have performed Tommy John surgeries on pitcher’s elbow injuries which enabled them to return to their high stress throwing.

What is your most memorable moment working with N.C. State basketball?

My most memorable moment with NC State basketball came when one of the coaches told me that my care of an athlete throughout the season was responsible for the team’s ultimate post-season success.

Dr. Robert Wyker is an orthopaedic surgeon with Raleigh Orthopaedic and also serves as the Medical Director for North Carolina State University. He specializes in total joint replacement, arthroscopy, shoulder problems and sports medicine.  He has also serves as past president of the North Carolina Orthopaedic Association, and a member of multiple orthopaedic societies. He received his medical degree from the University of Virginia School of Medicine and completed his residency at Univeristy of Pittsburgh. He also completed an American Board of Orthopaedic Subspecialty Certification in Orthopaedic Sports Medicine.