For Mark Stovak, it’s all for the love of the game.
A former Division I college baseball player, Stovak is program director for Via Christi’s Family Medicine Residency Program and director of its Sports Medicine Fellowship program.
He’s also the head team physician for all Wichita State University sports and works with Newman University, professional teams in Wichita and USD 259.
“It’s a great patient population,” Stovak said. “You really have to hold them back, and they want to do everything you tell them to do to get healthy, so it’s a fun population to work with.”
A native of Reno, Nev., Stovak attended the University of Nevada for his undergraduate degree and medical school. He played baseball there for two years.
He’s also helped as a physician for the Olympics, Paralympics and Pan American Games.
When he’s not on the sidelines, he spends time with his wife, family physician Leslie Greenberg, and their three kids, who are 13, 10 and 8 years old.
Q. What does a sports medicine physician do?
A. Sports medicine is basically anything that relates to sports that’s non-operative. Probably 95 percent of musculoskeletal sports injuries don’t need surgery, so we would take care of those and manage those. But it also includes medical aspects of sports: any illness, any disease, any concussion or injury that might keep you out of sports.
Q. You’ve worked with the Paralympics. What led you to doing that work?
A. I initially thought it would be really cool to work with Olympic athletes because I had worked with professional athletes and every other level, so I volunteered. That was neat, but the Paralympic athletes were even cooler because they really needed a physician because they had all kinds of illnesses. And what they were doing was pretty incredible.
Q. What’s the biggest challenge in sports medicine?
A. I think some of the challenges with sports medicine are ethical. You have athletes that are injured and you have to do the right thing and it’s often a challenge.
When it’s a professional athlete and they’re making a lot of money, and you need to hold them out, or if it’s a Division I college athlete and it’s the star player, if they have something wrong, you have to do the right thing. That’s an ethical dilemma you have to deal with every day.
You have to push the envelope far enough to know what people are allowed to do short of hurting themselves or making themselves worse, and going too far and doing the wrong thing and letting someone play that shouldn’t be playing.
Q. You were a founding member of the Kansas Sports Concussion Partnership. Can you talk about that and awareness?
A. We see a ton of concussions. More than we’d like. People are aware of it now, so they discuss their symptoms, where before they’d hide them. …
I think people are realizing the detrimental downside long term as far as having numerous concussions. Now you see all the professional athletes coming out and they have dementia, they’re committing suicide or not able to function in their daily lives because of numerous concussions. That’s the extreme side, but there’s a whole spectrum.
Q. Do your kids play sports?
A. Yeah, my kids have played whatever sports they wanted to play, and I encouraged it, but I certainly am aware of all the bad things that can happen. Certainly sports are wonderful for team participation, leadership, fitness. …
Everybody asks me if I let my kids play football. And I let them play and started them when they were really young, hoping they wouldn’t like it so when they got old enough to really get hurt, they wouldn’t be playing.
So far, it’s worked out. They didn’t have any concussions and they’ve given up football. I think they just found more success in other sports.