Jeffrey Sun came to college certain he wanted to help professional athletes as a sports medicine physician. However, with limited internships and no medical center on the UC Santa Cruz campus, it’s hard for students like Sun to gain hands-on training before graduate school.
Now a second-year human biology major, Sun is one of six interns in the sports medicine internship program, in which UCSC undergraduates assist certified athletic trainers to treat student-athletes.
“This has been very rewarding,” Sun said. “As a Division III school, [the program] benefits the interns more because Division I schools have less time for teaching.”
The program was organized in 2014 by assistant athletic trainer Raphael Carpio, who jump-started his career in athletic training as an undergraduate through the sports medicine internship at UC Davis. He worked with Division I volleyball, track and field, and field hockey.
Carpio envisioned a similar athletic training internship at UCSC to expose interested students to the experiences he had at UC Davis.
For Sun, this was an opportunity he couldn’t pass up.
Sun averages six hours a week interning at the athletic training complex by the east field gym. He learns fundamental athletic training skills from observing trainers and applies them under supervision.
Throughout his first year as an intern, Sun became familiar with various treatments in physical therapy. He volunteered in a hospital before coming to college, but he has not had a chance to work with ultrasounds or stim machines. In the sports medicine clinic, that equipment is used regularly by the interns to treat athletes. Ultrasounds help regulate good blood circulation to foster muscle repair while stim machines stimulate muscles by sending electrical currents to the body.
However, sometimes the most basic techniques are the hardest to grasp.
“Learning how to tape athletes is actually a lot harder than it looks,” Sun said. “It takes half a roll at least to properly tape an ankle with figure eights. When I taped my ankle in high school, I didn’t pay attention to those fine details.”
On a “slow day,” interns like Sun have the opportunity to assist in physical conditioning sessions with off-season athletes. While assistant athletic trainer Neno Bartocci walks athletes through proper deadlifting and squatting form, Sun closely observes the position of the athlete’s body during each phase of the lift.
Sun finishes off the physical conditioning sessions by conducting stretches to fix any muscle imbalances in the body.
“People think that sports are just brute strength and natural talent,” Sun said. “But a lot of time goes into taking care of the body and recovering.”
In addition to hands-on training, Sun and the interns learn about human physiology and anatomy on a daily basis. Some of the concepts are only taught in upper-division biology courses that require at least four prerequisites.
The program even satisfies Sun’s internship requirement for the human biology major. Most students have to travel outside of Santa Cruz to find health internships for the five-unit requirement.
Sun said interns don’t need prior experience in athletic training, the athletic trainers teach new recruits everything they need to know. All prospective interns just need an eagerness to learn.
March was a special month for Sun and the athletic training staff. It was “National Athletic Training Month,” an event sanctioned by the National Athletic Trainer’s Association that raises awareness for physical therapy across college campuses in the U.S.
For the UCSC sports medicine clinic, it was an event to promote the internship program and educate athletes on the importance of athletic training.
“We wanted to utilize social media through Facebook and Instagram to spread awareness about athletic training,” said assistant athletic trainer Neno Bartocci. “Jeffrey and the interns are setting up tabling and fundraisers so prospective students know about this program.”
Bartocci emphasized the importance of including student-athletes in the internship. Two of the six interns in the sports medicine clinic are student-athletes who play on the women’s basketball team and the men’s volleyball team. Women’s basketball guard Kim Tom joined the program in September and honed the skills learned in the clinic to benefit the team.
“It greatly helps the team when there is someone who has knowledge in athletic training,” Tom said. “Since the basketball team doesn’t have a head trainer, I can show my teammates some stretches during practice or before games.”
The dynamic learning environment between dribbling on the court and treating athletes in the clinic helped Tom gain more confidence in her future endeavors.
“This internship is a huge jump-start of what I am going to eventually learn in graduate school,” Tom said.
She has an ambition similar to Sun — to be working in the sports medicine field as a certified athletic trainer.
Trainer Raphael Carpio hopes he can extend the internship to offer more students like Sun and Tom valuable experiences in athletic training. However, with limited resources and small clinic spaces, it would be challenging to accommodate more interns.
Nevertheless, Carpio’s ambition is to provide a valuable internship that rivals programs in Division I schools like UC Davis. It will take some time, but it is certainly heading in that direction.
After losing one athletic trainer last year, Bartocci believes the program opened up extra opportunities for interns to step in and benefit everyone from the athletic trainers to the student-athletes.
“Having one less athletic trainer makes it harder to try to cover all athletic teams on campus,” Bartocci said. “But the internship has grown, making everyone a lot more knowledgeable and able to handle hot times when the athletes come in.”