Pressure on Sports Medicine Clinicians to Prematurely Return Collegiate Athletes to Play After Concussion

J Athl Train. 2015 Sep;50(9):944-51. doi: 10.4085/1062-6050-50.6.03. Epub 2015 Jul 24.


Context: Anecdotal and qualitative evidence has suggested that some clinicians face pressure from coaches and other personnel in the athletic environment to prematurely return athletes to participation after a concussion. This type of pressure potentially can result in compromised patient care.

Objective: To quantify the extent to which clinicians in the collegiate sports medicine environment experience pressure when caring for concussed athletes and whether this pressure varies by the supervisory structure of the institution's sports medicine department, the clinician's sex, and other factors.

Design: Cross-sectional study.

Setting: Web-based survey of National College Athletic Association member institutions.

Patients or other participants: A total of 789 athletic trainers and 111 team physicians from 530 institutions.

Main outcome measure(s): We asked participants whether they had experienced pressure from 3 stakeholder populations (other clinicians, coaches, athletes) to prematurely return athletes to participation after a concussion. Modifying variables that we assessed were the position (athletic trainer, physician) and sex of the clinicians, the supervisory structure of their institutions' sports medicine departments, and the division of competition in which their institutions participate.

Results: We observed that 64.4% (n = 580) of responding clinicians reported having experienced pressure from athletes to prematurely clear them to return to participation after a concussion, and 53.7% (n = 483) reported having experienced this pressure from coaches. Only 6.6% (n = 59) reported having experienced pressure from other clinicians to prematurely clear an athlete to return to participation after a concussion. Clinicians reported greater pressure from coaches when their departments were under the supervisory purview of the athletic department rather than a medical institution. Female clinicians reported greater pressure from coaches than male clinicians did.

Conclusions: Most clinicians reported experiencing pressure to prematurely return athletes to participation after a concussion. Identifying factors that are associated with variability in pressure on clinicians during concussion recovery can inform potential future strategies to reduce these pressures.

Keywords: college; conflict of interest; organizational structure; sex.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Athletic Injuries / psychology
  • Athletic Injuries / rehabilitation*
  • Attitude of Health Personnel
  • Brain Concussion / psychology
  • Brain Concussion / rehabilitation*
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Female
  • Forecasting
  • Humans
  • Interprofessional Relations
  • Male
  • Outcome Assessment, Health Care
  • Practice Patterns, Physicians' / standards*
  • Return to Sport / psychology*
  • Sports / psychology
  • Sports Medicine / standards*
  • Students / statistics & numerical data
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Universities