Tang Center doctor awarded prestigious sports medicine accolade

Jan Flatley-Feldman/Staff

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Cindy Chang, the first female head team physician for Cal’s athletics program and a doctor at the Tang Center, was awarded one of sports medicine’s highest accolades at a ceremony Sept. 19.

Chang is the first woman to receive the Dr. Ernst Jokl Sports Medicine Award from the United States Sports Academy and joins  a group of past recipients including neurologist Roger Bannister, the first man to break a four-minute mile, and orthopedic surgeon Eric Heiden, a speed-skating champion.

Her selection was a “no-brainer,” given her many achievements in the field, said Duwayne Escobedo, USSA spokesperson.

Chang served as the first woman and first Asian American chief medical officer for Team USA in the 2012 Olympic Games. Prior to the games, she oversaw medical care at multiple Paralympic Games.

While Chang originally began her practice in family medicine, she was drawn to sports medicine due to her interest in musculoskeletal injuries and her lifetime passion for athletics.

In medical school, Chang tore her ACL in a basketball championship game and didn’t realize she was hurt until she went dancing to celebrate the team’s win. The injury, one of many she sustained while playing sports, furthered her interest in sports medicine.

As head team physician for Cal’s 27 Division I athletic teams from 1995 to 2008, Chang saw medical cases ranging from standard sprains to more unusual scenarios.

At a Louisiana football game, Chang said, she sutured a complex facial laceration in a dimly lit locker room. On another occasion, she drained a player’s abscess in a hotel bathtub the night before a game.

“She can all of a sudden run down the hall and say, ‘I want to show you this!’ ” said Harris Masket, a sports medicine doctor at the Tang Center, of Chang’s enthusiasm for her job. “She’ll show you this tiny little dislocation and say, ‘I’ve never seen this before.’ ”

Many of Chang’s colleagues recognize her as a leader in the field. When she first began her career, however, some older coaches questioned her ability to understand injuries that arose from male-dominated sports, Chang said.

“They would say, ‘You never played football. What do you know about football?’ ” she said. “In the end, you want to look for a good physician who understands injuries but also understands the psyche of a student-athlete and of coaches.”

Although Chang stepped down from the head team physician position, she still works as a doctor at the Tang Center.

In addition to her on-campus responsibilities, Chang works with the California Concussion Coalition, an organization she co-founded in 2012, and the California Interscholastic Federation’s Sports Medicine Committee.

Contact Chloee Weiner and Kimberly Veklerov at [email protected].