Live & Practice: Sports Towns 2019

By Liz Funk | Fall 2019 | Live & Practice

 

Virtually every town or small city has a local flavor and a sense of regional pride. For towns and small cities home to major universities with well-known sports programs, that local spirit is amplified.

In Syracuse, New York, the Syracuse University college basketball program makes the snowy winters something to look forward to. In Lexington, Kentucky, in addition to the equestrian sports that the city is famous for, the University of Kentucky sports fans take their teams seriously. In Lawrence, Kansas, the enthusiasm over The University of Kansas sometimes calls for city streets to be closed during the NCAA playoffs. And in Storrs, Connecticut, the University of Connecticut women’s basketball program is king—or rather, queen.

Living in an area with a large university sports program usually involves scores of other benefits for physicians: diversity, culture, arts and entertainment.

Lawrence, Kansas

Dr. James Naismith, known as “the father of basketball,” was also the first basketball coach at The University of Kansas. The fervor for sports in this college town—particularly KU basketball—is deeply ingrained in the culture.

Steven Stites, M.D., attended medical school at the University of Missouri-Columbia. He completed a fellowship at The University of Kansas Hospital and built a career there. The two schools are rivals—but Stites has found a happy compromise. “I am a rare breed,” he says. “I’m a ‘TigerHawk,’ cheering for both KU and MU!”

Stites is a pulmonary and critical care specialist as well as the interim executive vice chancellor for the KU School of Medicine. “I specifically treat patients with cystic fibrosis or those who have had a lung transplant,” says Stites.

Choosing his specialty came easily: “This is something I truly enjoyed and loved to do from the first day of residency,” he says. This specialization also brought him to The University of Kansas Hospital for a fellowship in pulmonary and critical care medicine.

The University of Kansas Health System employs over 1,000 physicians across 200 specialties. The University of Kansas Medical Center is a 773-bed teaching hospital. On the main campus, there are outpatient clinics for nearly every specialty, says Debbie Gleason, a physician recruiter for The University of Kansas Health System. The University of Kansas Health System operates more than 80 inpatient and outpatient facilities in the greater Kansas City area.

“Our featured services include cancer (we have an NCI Cancer Center designation), diabetes and endocrinology, geriatrics, neurology and neurosurgery, urology, cardiology and cardiothoracic surgery, gastroenterology and GI surgery, nephrology and pulmonary,” Gleason says.

Roughly 2 million people live in the greater Kansas City area, which includes Lawrence. The area, says Gleason, “is a breath of fresh air when it comes to the friendly Midwest lifestyle, lower cost of living and a wide variety of smaller communities—everything from downtown loft apartments near the heart of nightlife to quiet suburban neighborhoods.”

Stites agrees with this assessment. “My family and I love Kansas City because it feels much like a small town but has the diversity and opportunities of a larger city. Kansas City is a place to call home.” Stites and his family—he has three children—are active with their church and are outdoors enthusiasts. They like to go fly fishing in the Ozarks.

Lawrence has a tradition of creating big sports fans. “Lawrence is absolutely a sports town. We are a tad fanatical about our sports teams,” says Andrea Johnson, director of marketing and communications at Explore Lawrence. “Our high school squads have a long tradition of state championships. Haskell Indian Nations University has given the world the Olympians Jim Thorpe and Billy Mills. And, of course, this is Jayhawk Nation. The University of Kansas Jayhawks track and field team has gold medal in its blood.”

“Jayhawk basketball” is another source of immense pride for the community in Lawrence. The Jayhawks men’s basketball team has won five national championships. Additionally, more than 80 KU men’s basketball players have played or are currently playing in the NBA. Says Johnson, “It influences the culture all the time, but especially so during the spring when strangers become friends connected by the excitement of March Madness. If the Jayhawks reach the Sweet 16 and beyond in the NCAA tournament, expect impromptu parties downtown… we may even shut down the streets!”

Syracuse, New York

As chief resident, Robert Corona, D.O., discovered a love for leading others. He’s now CEO of Upstate University Hospital. – Photo by Leo Timoshuk

Syracuse University’s dynamic presence brings entertainment, an educated populace, and of course, serious basketball to this small town in central New York. For physicians, the area’s largest employer is Upstate University Hospital, an academic hospital affiliated with the State University of New York (SUNY).

When Robert Corona, D.O., was an undergraduate pre-med major at Ithaca College, he developed a swollen lymph node. “I was told I had Hodgkin’s disease,” says Corona. Corona consulted with his pre-med advisor, who was an osteopathic physician. “He felt the lymph node, and he said, ‘Do you have a cat?’” Corona says. “I did. He said, ‘I think this lymph node is cat scratch fever, not lymphoma.’ When I went to a pathologist, my results were consistent with cat scratch fever. From then on, I was totally hooked on osteopathic medicine.”

Corona was born and raised in central New York. He attended high school in Skaneateles, a town 30 minutes outside Syracuse in the tourist-friendly Finger Lakes region known for its water sports and wineries.

Corona attended the New York Institute of Technology College of Osteopathic Medicine in Long Island. Says Corona, “I got an internship focusing on pathology and neurology, and it really was a monumental moment for me. I was impressed by the approach.”

As chief resident, Corona discovered that he enjoyed leading others in a hospital setting. During his tenure at Upstate University Hospital, he has served as chair of the pathology department up to his current role of CEO.

Upstate Medical University includes the College of Medicine, the College of Nursing, the College of Graduate Studies, and the College of Health Professions. The system’s hospitals include Upstate University Hospital (which has two campuses, one in downtown Syracuse), Upstate Golisano Children’s Hospital, and Upstate Cancer Center.

Upstate’s Downtown Campus is a 425-bed teaching hospital. The Community Campus is a 409-bed facility. The Upstate Family Birth Center is housed at the Community Campus, as is Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation Center.

Another employer of physicians in Syracuse is Crouse Hospital, a 506-bed acute care facility operated by Crouse Health, an affiliate of Northwell Health.

Corona says, “I make rounds with the docs. On Wednesdays, I do my neuropathology work. I teach residents. I look at cases under the microscope. …Working in the trenches with the docs and the nurses helps me keep my balance and feel valued. I also have a senior associate dean role in the medical college. I still do research with my neurosurgery colleagues, and I teach.”

When he is not exercising his passionate nature at the hospital, Corona is literally exercising as a passionate athlete. “I do all kinds of sports. I’m a sports fanatic. I like the summer and the fall; in my opinion, that’s the best season for outdoor sports.”

For sports fans, there are year-round events to enjoy as well. Syracuse University is well-known for its journalism and communications programs and for its Division I sports programs. One could argue that Syracuse’s basketball team—among other indoor sports—makes the central New York winter a little easier for doctors and patients alike.

Storrs, Connecticut

Katherine Coyner, M.D., is a team physician for several UConn teams, including women’s basketball. “I’d go as a fan, but now I get to go as the team doctor,” she says. – Photo by Butler Photography

Storrs, Connecticut, is home to the University of Connecticut, the state’s flagship public university. Twenty minutes south of Storrs is the UConn School of Medicine, as well as the UConn John Dempsey Hospital, a 186-bed academic hospital. UConn Health is home to a robust sports medicine program, where doctors train to specialize and where UConn athletes are treated during training.

It’s one thing to be a sports fan; it’s another thing to work for a university health system with a Division I sports program.

Katherine Coyner, M.D., is an orthopedic surgeon for UConn Health. She grew up in Ohio with a childhood friend whose father was an orthopedic surgeon—a profession she’d always wanted to pursue.

As a sought-after college basketball recruit, though, Coyner needed to find a coach who supported her academic ambitions as well as her athletic ones. “I had a coach tell me, ‘You can’t play on my team and be a biochemistry and molecular biology double-major,’” says Coyner. It was the coach’s loss; Coyner played basketball for the University of Massachusetts-Amherst and began a fruitful academic career that has come full circle with Coyner practicing at a teaching hospital and working with young athletes.

“For me, it keeps me close to the games I grew up loving. It keeps me around athletes. My experience gives me that connection with athletes; they understand that I played at a high level and that I know what they’re going through.”

Coyner attended Northeastern Ohio University for medical school, then did residency at William Beaumont Hospital in Royal Oak, Michigan. She was their first female resident ever in orthopedic surgery.

Coyner completed a one-year sports medicine fellowship at Duke University and then spent the first five years of her career practicing in Dallas. She came to the University of Connecticut Health System to be part of the organization’s sports medicine program.

“I am one of the team doctors for men’s and women’s basketball, football, ice hockey,” says Coyner. “UConn has an incredible women’s basketball team. I just traveled to the Final Four with them. I’d go as a fan, but now I get to go as the team doctor.”

Coyner enjoys practicing in a smaller market. With Storrs’ population of 15,000, she likes that she sees her patients at the grocery store and around town.

“It’s a vibrant community filled with history, culture and ample recreational opportunities,” says Randy Fiveash, director of the Connecticut Office of Tourism. “Downtown Storrs serves as Mansfield’s downtown, attracting students, residents and visitors from across Connecticut and beyond,” he says.

“There is a whole host of activities to do in the area, from attending major sporting events and hiking in The Last Green Valley—a national heritage corridor—to zip lining through the forest,” says Fiveash. There is even the Mansfield “Pup Crawl,” a guided dog walk through downtown Storrs.

Says Fiveash: “Storrs is a bustling community filled with historic, cultural and natural treasures, as well as thriving businesses, trendy shops and restaurants, making it a great place to live, work or visit.”

Lexington, Kentucky

Lexington, Kentucky, is the second-largest city in Kentucky (second to Louisville). It has a population of 350,000 and a strong sense of community rooted in horse racing tradition and the energy of a college town. There is fierce local pride in the University of Kentucky Wildcats.

I grew up in Louisville and I went to the University of Louisville for medical school, so I’ve always rooted for [the Louisville Cardinals],” says Paige Quintero, M.D. “But now that I live in Lexington, there are some very, very devoted UK fans. So, my family and I say that we cheer for all the Kentucky teams. I pass the UK football field on my way to the hospital. It’s exciting to live in this college town.”

Quintero studied biochemistry at Smith College in Northampton, Massachusetts. She graduated early, went back to Kentucky to study at the University of Louisville Medical School, then did residency at Loyola in Chicago and a one-year fellowship at the University of Missouri (known by football fans as “Mizzou”).

“At Mizzou, the football stadium was right across the street from the hospital. I could go to a game, and if I was on call, I could just walk across the street. It would be faster than driving to the hospital from my home,” says Quintero. After fellowship, she looked for opportunities in bariatric surgery.

She has found Baptist Health Lexington to be especially supportive of her as she builds her practice and sees patients from around the state.

“As a person who struggled with her weight, I can empathize with my patients,” Quintero says. “I had weight loss surgery a year and a half ago, and I lost 90 pounds. That means a lot to patients when you can say, ‘I went through this too. You’ll recover from surgery; it’s going to be all right.” Quintero gave Baptist Health Lexington’s bariatric program potentially the highest praise: she had her surgery there, and her partner performed her surgery. “I told my partner, ‘I chose you; I trust you and I know you’re going to do a great job.’”

Quintero is happy with both her colleagues and patients. “In a larger market, there is more competition, and maybe in a smaller market there wouldn’t be enough business,” she says. “But here, it’s just the right-sized hospital and just the right-sized program, to be recognized and notable. There are two bariatric surgeons, and it provides such a great lifestyle in that we’re not always on call.”

Lexington is a culturally rich place to live with lots of leisure and entertainment activities to enjoy, which is important to Quintero and her family.

“Lexington is a mid-size city that punches way above its weight class,” says Mary Quinn Ramer, director of Visit Lexington. “There is a strong medical community here. …We also have a thriving downtown and an amazing culinary scene.”

Sports are also important to the community. Says Ramer: “We eat, breathe and sleep the Southeastern Collegiate Division, especially basketball. Our football team [at the University of Kentucky] has done just fine recently, so we’re football fans now too. It’s a very social town; people eat out and go to events all the time.”

Quintero is counting her blessings. “I hate to tell people how much I love my job because they’re going to want it,” she says. “I have so much time with family in my position because I don’t do general surgery. I am so thankful here that, in my mid-30s, I’ve achieved a good amount of business, a good lifestyle, and I’m able to see my family.” 

 

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