‘We do it Because we Love it’: College of Medicine Faculty Provide Important Care for UK Football Team


The University of Kentucky football team has invigorated the campus community with one of the best seasons in the program’s recent history. In October, the Wildcats earned an exhilarating win over Florida, as well as a 21-point victory over 2019 national champion LSU.   

Sellout crowds have cheered on the team from the stands, and many more have tuned in on TV. Meanwhile, three College of Medicine faculty members spend each game – and the week leading up to the game – hard at work.

Robert Hosey, MD, Darren Johnson, MD, and M. Kyle Smoot, MD, are team physicians. Their work consists of long days and an important responsibility: coordinating care for some of the greatest athletes in the Commonwealth. And while they enjoy seeing the Wildcats succeed just as much as the next fan, they have a different focus.

“It’s always fun to win, but as a physician responsible for the health and safety of our student athletes, the most visible ambassadors of our University, it really is easy to separate our fanhood from our responsibility,” Dr. Smoot said. “We’re trained to do that.”

Once football camp begins in August, Dr. Hosey, Dr. Johnson, and Dr. Smoot essentially have no days off until after the bowl game. They must always be available.

During the week, after full days of treating patients at the UK HealthCare Turfland Clinic, the doctors head to the UK football team’s training room for post-practice evaluations. On Saturdays, they arrive onsite more than two-and-a-half hours before game time, unless it’s an away game. In that case, they travel the Friday evening before.

They watch games from the sidelines, prepared to treat player injuries when necessary. If a player takes a hard hit, for example, they’re available to conduct a physical exam, evaluate for potential injury, and determine whether the athlete can safely return to the field.

Many might think that game day, Saturday, is the most important, but Dr. Johnson said it is the other six days of the week that are most critical, particularly Sunday. On that day, the medical team must have everyone evaluated because the coaching staff needs decisions on who will be available to practice that week, then play in the upcoming game.

Combine all of these duties with their day jobs educating College of Medicine learners, writing grants for vital research projects related to sports injury and illness, and of course, treating patients in the community.

So football season is … busy, to say the least. But why they do it is simple.

“We do it because we love it,” Dr. Johnson said. “We are passionate about it and simply care about the student athletes.”

As College of Medicine faculty, they’re training the next generation of physicians who share their passion. Through the College of Medicine’s fellowship programs, a trainee attends each UK football game on a rotating basis to shadow the physicians and help with in-game evaluations and decision making. The UK College of Medicine also partners with Eastern Kentucky University, Kentucky State University, Georgetown College, and Morehead State University, providing additional opportunities for trainees to gather vital experience.

“You want fellows to be prepared to do this when they finish, wherever they end up,” Dr. Smoot said. “I think they get a nice mix in our program where they get to see Power Five athletics and medical care that supports that, as well as the medical care that supports smaller collegiate programs.”

Fall might be a busy time of year, but in the midst of an exciting football season, the trio makes the most of their hectic schedules and long weekends. They know they enjoy a unique opportunity to make a difference for the players and build strong relationships in the process.

Plus, the Wildcats’ success this season has been pretty fun to experience.

“Having worked with the football team for over 15 years, it is exciting to see the strides they have made on the field,” Dr. Hosey said. “Competing in the toughest football conference in the country, the success they are having currently is amazing to witness.”

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Dr. Hosey, head team physician, has been with the College of Medicine since 1998, currently serving as professor in the department family and community medicine with a joint appointment in the department of orthopaedic surgery and sports medicine. In that time, he has worked with the football team for more than 15 years and has been named one of the “Best Doctors in America."

Dr. Johnson, head orthopaedic surgeon for UK Athletics, is a nationally recognized physician, particularly in complex knee surgery. He joined the UK College of Medicine faculty in 1993, serving as chief/chair of the department of orthopaedic surgery and sports medicine 2000-2018. During his tenure, he quadrupled the clinical volume and number of faculty to transition the division into a department. Dr. Johnson has cared for patients at UK HealthCare for more than 25 years and is annually selected as one of the “Best Doctors in America” as well as the “Top Doctors” in America.

Dr. Smoot, assistant head team physician, is a professor in the departments of orthopaedic surgery and sports medicine and family and community medicine. As a health care provider, Dr. Smoot has been selected as one of the “Best Doctors in America.” He just began his seventh year with the UK College of Medicine and with the football team, previously holding the same position with University of Iowa Athletics. He completed his residency and sports medicine fellowship at the University of Kentucky.