As far back as he can remember, Cher Chang, MD, ’18 always had a passion for sports. At the same time, he was intrigued with the ways medicine could be used to treat sports injuries. “Since I loved sports of all kinds, I wanted to learn as much as I could about Sports Medicine—and treating musculoskeletal injuries such as knee and shoulder injuries, sprained ankles, head injuries, tendonitis, and fractures. Every athlete encounters an injury at least once. Some are serious enough to warrant intensive treatment. I wanted to have the medical expertise to get athletes back in the game.”
Learning about Sports Medicine (the hard way)
Originally from Wausau, Wisconsin, Dr. Chang’s parents and grandparents emigrated to the U.S. in 1991 as Hmong refugees from Laos. He is one of eight children, and one of the first in his family to attend college, majoring in biology with minors in chemistry and psychology at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point. His interest in medicine was piqued in his childhood when he jumped off the roof with an umbrella after seeing the movie, “Mary Poppins”, and promptly broke both ankles. “Luckily, that injury and my subsequent rehabilitation are how I learned about Sports Medicine. My doctors took good care of me, but I was more interested in what they were doing,” says Dr. Chang. Despite the injury, he was determined to play soccer, volleyball, basketball, tennis, and track and field during high school. While shadowing an emergency medicine doctor in college, Dr. Chang discovered he wanted to work with patients as a physician.
Healing all types of athletes—and patients
Currently in a Family Medicine residency at the Medical College of Wisconsin, he has the opportunity to practice in a Sports Medicine track. “I work with great faculty who mentor me. Even though COVID-19 slowed things down, I had exposure to college and high school athletes much of the time, caring for injuries and helping with recovery. One of the most unique experiences I had was working with ballet dancers in the Milwaukee Ballet. This residency program checked all the boxes for me and I’m loving it.”
Dr. Chang also works with underserved patient populations while in residency, many of whom are refugees. “I was eager to work with patients who are new immigrants. We see patients who are from all over the world, including patients from the Hmong community. Many need to be educated on vaccinations and have food insecurity. I’m getting great exposure in community medicine and medical literacy.”
The perfect fellowship
Looking forward to the next steps in his medical career, Dr. Chang has matched into his top fellowship choice, The University of Buffalo in New York. The position will begin in the Summer of 2022 and allow him to be part of a team that serves as primary sports medicine doctors for the university’s athletes. “I was looking for a competitive Division One college program (the highest level of college sports before a semi-professional designation, including such sports as football, basketball, hockey, wrestling, track and field, etc.) that had a wide variety of sports and lots of hands-on opportunities. In addition, I’ll treat patients of all ages who have similar injuries and don’t require surgery but need long-term recovery options. That’s why this is a great opportunity for me.”
Dr. Chang will be working with patients on non-surgical options for care, performing physical therapy and injections, and reviewing options to stabilize and strengthen muscles, like aquatic therapy or the use of a brace.
RUSM support led the way to success
Recalling his days at Ross University School of Medicine (RUSM), he credits the instructors who inspired him on the way to launching his medical career. “My professors were very approachable and willing to mentor. I took advantage of academic services like the ELLS 1 course (Essential Lifelong Learning Skills—now called Academic Skills Enhancement) through the Academy of Teaching and Learning (ATL), when I had trouble with the first semester. RUSM instructors and the Wellness and Counseling Center staff are there to provide the support needed for students to be successful.”
Diagnosing patient issues, recommending treatment, and seeing improvement after therapy is the most exciting part of Dr. Chang’s day as a resident. “Getting my patients back to doing what they love to do, and getting them back to functioning without surgery is the most gratifying part of my work.” Post-fellowship, Dr. Chang hopes to find a position in an outpatient clinic that allows him to do both Sports Medicine and Family Medicine. “While I want to focus on sports injuries, I also want to keep the continuation of care to make sure patients are checked for diabetes, high blood pressure, and cholesterol—not just injuries—and care for patients holistically.”
What is his advice for current RUSM students? “Don’t be afraid to step outside your comfort zone and get the hands-on experience you need. We’re all here to learn and that will continue through your entire career.”