Meet Dr. Douglas Dietzel, MSU football's head orthopedic surgeon
This is a part one in a series of six stories profiling MSU’s Sports Medicine faculty.
In the world of sports, the coaches and players tend to receive all the acclaim, glory and either wanted or unwanted celebrity statuses. Even in East Lansing, students see MSU athletes as celebrities and tell their friends stories about how three football players are in his or her class.
But there is another group of people who also see superstar athletes, just not in the same fashion. This group would be the team of surgeons, trainers and physicians at the MSU Sports Medicine Facility.
Take Dr. Douglas Dietzel, a man who witnessed an arthroscopic surgery in college, which is a minimally invasive joint procedure, leading him down the path to change his major to sports medicine as an undergraduate student at Ball State University. After graduating from Ball State, he went on to obtain a doctorate of osteopathy from the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine. He has been working at the MSU Sports Medicine facility for 20 years and has been head orthopedic surgeon for the MSU football team and the Department of Intercollegiate Athletics at MSU for the past 10.
MSU Sports Medicine Facility does take care of the Spartan athletes, but in many cases their work isn’t limited to just MSU. Dietzel has been working with Holt High School and Holt Athletics for nearly 18 years. And to go along with his title of clinical director for the MSU Sports Medicine Facility, having a comfortable working relationship with the other surgeons at the facility is paramount.
“From an atmosphere standpoint, we all really get along well,” Dietzel said. “We have a great group of (doctors) that all have a common belief and understanding on how to take care of the athletes and what we are trying to accomplish. ...Although we are fans, we try not to be fans when it comes to our sports. We try to do what is in the best interest of the athletes, so that is extremely important to us.”
Luckily for Dietzel and his team, the surgeons don’t have to see every athlete every day. That job belongs to the general MSU Athletic Training Staff and Dietzel said he recognizes their hard work and appreciates it.
“We have a very strong bond with the athletic training staff here at Michigan State,” Dietzel said. “They are essential to our job and to what we do because they are with the athletes more than we are. We are here almost every day, but they are here even more. It’s a very symbiotic type of relationship, where we work very closely with them and they work very closely with us.”
Fortunately, it is fairly rare that MSU Sports Medicine Facility is asked to perform surgery. Dietzel was surprised when he had to perform two surgeries in one week for the MSU football team this past season, as two is usually how many he has to perform total across an entire season.
“It’s usually just once or twice in the season where we have to do surgeries on the football players or some of these athletes,” Dietzel said. “At the end of the season, typically we will take care of a lot more of the athletes with surgeries and deal with issues that have been building up or that we have been working with throughout the year.”
From Dietzel’s perspective, the craft of performing surgery on football players is still challenging, even with the abundance of experience he maintains.
“The reality is, some of these guys are very big, so we can’t use some of our normal instruments to do stuff because they are so big,” Dietzel said. “Most of the surgeries are fairly routine, but the reality is it’s a little different level with these athletes and sometimes there is a little more urgency to get some of the stuff done and get them back performing quicker.”
Regardless of the scenario, Dietzel stays true to his passion for sports medicine with the same passion he had while attending Ball State.
He currently works at Lansing Community College and as the medical director for the Orthopedic Surgery Residency Program at McLaren Orthopedic Hospital, in addition to Holt High School and MSU.
That’s not all.
He continues to serve as board member of the American Osteopathic Academy of Sports Medicine and remains a member of the Arthroscopy Association of North America.
He was formerly a certified athletic trainer, ATC, for the Philadelphia Eagles, but has found his home at MSU, and luckily for the football athletes, it doesn’t appear he is going anywhere.
“To be fortunate enough to be in a situation like this, it has just somehow worked itself out for me,” Dietzel said.
Dietzel is one of many physicians, trainers and surgeons at MSU, and even though it took him until college to find his calling, his behind-the-scene efforts are making an impacting on the football field.