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Women are rising up the ranks throughout professional football, gaining positions of power in a space that was almost entirely dominated by men for too long. We’re seeing more and more women breaking barriers in the sport, but what are the stories beyond the headlines? Who are the women shaping and influencing the NFL today? Answering those questions is the aim of the Next Woman Up series. Although the conversational Q&As are edited and condensed for clarity, this is a forum for influential women to share experiences in their own words. Without further ado, we present:

Alexandra Cancio-Bello

Job: Fourth-year Howard University College of Medicine student who recently completed a month-long clinical rotation with the New York Giants medical staff through the NFL Sports Medicine Diversity Pipeline Initiative Read also : Why pickleball is the hottest sport right now.

I received an email from Howard University saying they are partnering with the NFL for a once-in-a-lifetime orthopedic rotation. What better way to learn orthopedics than football? So I applied and they told me I was accepted into the program. I was so excited to hear that I was going to be with the New York Giants because they are affiliated with the Hospital for Special Surgery, which is the No. 1 orthopedic surgery hospital in the country. I also learned that I would be working with Dr. Scott Rodeo and Dr. Samuel Taylor, who are titans in the field. It’s great to be able to work with them.

The fact that the Giants are having an incredible season this year is a bonus. I haven’t always followed football, so I definitely had to do some research before starting my rotation. I would say my time with the Giants was my first real football experience, which is the best you could have.

What were some of the things you did and/or learned during the month long rotation?

Giants assistant athletic trainer Mike Baum instituted an incredible rotation schedule. Some days were split between the Quest Diagnostics Training Center and the Hospital for Special Surgery. It was different every day, and I was exposed to so many things. My favorite day of the week was Monday. We will arrive at the training center around 7 am for an injury clinic. I was there with Dr. Rodeo, Dr. Taylor, head athletic trainer Ronnie Barnes, the coaches and players. That’s when I learned the most. Then in the afternoon, I went to the hospital to observe an operation.

I was at the training center every Tuesday and Thursday for practice. People usually see injuries happen in a game, but it was during practice when you could see why those injuries happened. Watching the players do drills and practice made me realize some things like why the defensive line has so many elbow injuries, and it could be because they do a lot of the same motions when trying to block.

I also went to three games, including the Giants vs. Jacksonville game. Traveling with the team was a great experience.

That’s great to hear. What were some of your biggest takeaways from the rotation?

We really need a team to give these athletes the best care to keep them healthy and on the field. There is so much at stake, and so much pressure on the players. In a typical sports medicine rotation, you might tell a patient to take it easy for a few weeks and slowly get back to normal. That is not the case with the players. They came back every day and did therapy, which is not always fun, but they have so much determination. Everyone, from doctors to coaches, plays such a big part in the whole process. Usually, doctors refer patients to physical therapy, but it was really cool to see all the steps of recovery happening and how critical each step is. The rehabilitation aspect was a big takeaway too, because I had never been exposed to it.

When you look back, did anything surprise you?

I was surprised by how welcoming everyone was. It was very refreshing. Orthopedic surgery is a male-dominated field, and so is the NFL, where all the players are men. But they wanted me to be there and ask questions about the school and the residency. They made me feel very comfortable. It was easy to create a relationship with the doctors, coaches, players and even the head coach Brian Daboll, who was very nice and made me feel welcome.

It must be the games. The intensity is something I’ve never experienced, and it’s hard to describe. Being there on the sidelines with the team, you can feel their total focus, and the coaches and staff are also focused. There is one goal, and that is to win — and keep everyone healthy. But I would say my favorite moment was in the Giants-Texans game. The players were giving me fist bumps as they came off the field. It was a great feeling to be part of the team.

Do you have any mentors? If so, what have you learned from them?

Mentoring is so important. When I first started medical school, I thought the most important thing was how well I performed in classes and my board scores – basically, how hard you work. But I’ve learned that in competitive fields like orthopedics, where there might be 1,000 people applying for seven residencies, it’s about who you know, connections and mentorship. No one in my family is a doctor, so finding mentors can be challenging. I worked hard to find them.

When the pandemic hit, I reached out to Dr. Robin West, who was the team doctor for the Washington Commanders at the time. She was the first female orthopedic surgeon I saw in the DMV area, so I emailed her. He met with me on Zoom, talked to me about the field, gave me good advice and wrote me a recommendation for a research position at the Mayo Clinic. She was very helpful.

Then, I took a research year at the Mayo Clinic not only to gain experience but also to create mentorship. There I had worked with Dr. Brandon Yuan, Dr. Jonathan Barlow and Dr. Christine Hidden. They were amazing, and I learned how important it is to empower a mentee. That was not something I had experienced until I went there, and it probably helped to get this opportunity with the Giants. Then there is the meeting of Dr. Rodeo and Dr. Taylor has been amazing. Interview invitations for residency went out earlier this week, and Dr. Rodeo called me to ask if he could reach out to the interviewers. He wanted to tell them a little more about me before I met them. That’s a huge deal, and I’m very lucky to have these mentors. I look forward to being able to do the same for others.

Again, there are not many women in orthopedic surgery. I’ve been told by many people who don’t know me or haven’t worked with me – they only see me — that I should consider something else. Hearing that over and over, even though they haven’t seen me in a medical setting, it can get to you. I don’t necessarily need people to validate what I can do, but meeting people who are respected in the field and giving you support and the confidence that you belong is a good feeling. Having an advocate for them means a lot.

Before this rotation, did you consider working in professional sports as a career option for orthopedics?

I always knew it was an option, and I knew how competitive it is to work in professional sports, because that is the pinnacle of sports medicine. Everyone wants this, so I wasn’t sure if it was a realistic goal for me. This program has made me feel like it could be an option for me, whereas before it was more of an idea. This rotation has really meant a lot to me and everyone else who has been a part of it.

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