Dr. Mario Ciocca is the Director of Sports Medicine.
Super Work Ethic and Leadership
“If I could have a superpower, I would have a super arm so I could play professional baseball,” Dr. Ciocca laughs. What he lacks in superhero arm strength he more than makes up for in strong work ethic and leadership skills. Dr. Ciocca oversees the entire sports medicine clinic in Campus Health - doctors, nursing staff, orthopedists, medical students, athletic trainers and sports nutritionists.
UNC Campus Health’s Model for Sports Medicine
Campus Health offers a leading-edge model of Sports Medicine. “Other schools have started adopting our model of care, but we’ve had it for a while,” Dr. Ciocca said. “The athletic training staff report to me rather than a coach.” In doing so, medically trained professionals report to other medical professionals which supports athletic trainers in making decisions based on what is medically best for the student.
The unique model of Campus Health Sports Medicine also means that providers care for students who play club sports, intramurals, or simply have a musculoskeletal injury – right along with UNC’s intercollegiate athletes. The department is housed in both the Campus Health building and the Stallings-Evans building, and both locations are used by the general student population and the intercollegiate athletes.
The Sports Medicine team supports their patients in the prevention of and healing from injury and illness. This means they care for sprained ankles, help athletes get the flu shot, and screen for concussions – along with everything in between. “It’s different - being a primary care sports med physician – it means I am involved in all aspects of healthcare,” Ciocca stated. The broad scope of his work is part of what drew him to internal medicine. “I can’t say ‘I do knees or shoulders.’ I care for the wide range of medical issues that affect participation and play.”
The breadth of his practice continues beyond medical issues to include the range of activities in which his patients participate. Dr. Ciocca has cared for many students and teams during his tenure at UNC: baseball, football, men’s soccer, golf, women’s basketball, men’s lacrosse, men’s tennis – plus club sports, IMs, and the general student population. Through this work, Dr. Ciocca has influenced thousands of diverse UNC athletes in his years with Campus Health. “I like working with the college population,” Dr. Ciocca said. “It is fun to see students mature and grow. The most rewarding part of our job is when they come back after leaving campus so we can see what they do after this.”
Dr. Ciocca’s career path began at Columbia University, where he studied electrical engineering and played college baseball. Based on his physical activity and, later, a baseball injury requiring surgery, he became interested in medicine. He transitioned to biochemical engineering as his major. “It allowed me to do the pre-requisites for medical school if I decided to go that path but also still get an engineering degree,” Dr. Ciocca noted. After graduation, he attended New Jersey Medical School, where he planned to study orthopedics. He learned while in school that there are other paths to become a sports medicine practitioner, and turned to internal medicine instead. He did his residency in internal medicine here at UNC and came to Campus Health for his primary care sports medicine fellowship. Following that, he moved into the primary care clinics, where he worked with IM and Club Sports. He has worked for Campus Health full time in Sports Medicine since 2003, but began his work and training in the Chapel Hill area in 1993.
When asked about a career accomplishment, Dr. Ciocca noted his contribution of time and focus to UNC. “This job entails a lot of time,” he said. In saying that, he was not just referring to the crazy hours of 24 hours per day, 7 days per week, and 365 days per year that he’s asked to be available to his staff and athletes. As with most professions, he’s pulled in multiple directions – being asked to serve in professional organizations, publish articles, and more. “The way I’ve approached it is to devote my time and energy to UNC.” Dr. Ciocca has published articles and been a member of professional organizations, but ultimately prides himself most on spending his time and energy supporting UNC athletes, students and coaches.
Dr. Ciocca is a family man at heart. As first generation college student, he remains appreciative for all his parents have done to provide opportunities and a strong work ethic. Dr. Ciocca proudly stated, “My parents are both from Italy. They moved here after WWII….this was the land of hope. They came here to make a better life for us.” He’s since begun a family of his own with his wife and four kids and strives to provide them with the same grounding his parents gave.
Come See for Yourself
You can find Dr. Ciocca and the Sports Medicine Clinic on the first floor of the Campus Health building or in the Stallings-Evans Center behind the SRC.