Dr. Thomas Brickner has been a Campus Health Sports Medicine physician for 16 years. He is currently the head team physician for men's basketball, wrestling, tennis and golf, women's soccer, field hockey, crew, softball and gymnastics.
Dr. Brickner’s career path was, as he says, “a series of opportunities that presented themselves.” A trained family medicine physician, Dr. Brickner committed to a Naval scholarship for medical school, which took him on a variety of experiences after residency including several years serving as medical director and head physician for the US Antarctic program.
The unique experience of being in Antarctica still excites Dr. Brickner. When he spoke about the experience, his voice vibrated with enthusiasm. His role involved coordinating four medical clinics – three in Antarctica and one in New Zealand. The folks he supported with medical care were researchers studying ice sheaths, the ozone layer, wildlife, climate, and volcanoes as well as civilian and military support personnel. While in the position, Dr. Brickner quickly learned the value of Extreme Cold Weather gear and the ins and outs of remote medical practice. “It was the most trying and stressful years of my career,” he said, “but also some of the most rewarding.”
After several years at, literally, the end of the earth, Brickner sought a way to get home. He found it through a sports medicine fellowship training program located near his hometown. After the fellowship, Brickner still wasn’t sure of his next steps, but when a position at UNC opened, he applied. “I had no ties to North Carolina at the time,” Brickner said. “I had never been and didn’t know much about it.” Something about the opening intrigued him, and he was offered the job soon after.
Staff and student inspiration
Upon his arrival, Dr. Brickner immediately was charged with several athletic teams. He had to develop relationships quickly with staff, coaches, athletic trainers, and the athletes, so he quickly integrated into the welcoming UNC community. Dr. Brickner loves the active, outdoor-focused people who live in this area and his colleagues at UNC. “They’re just people who are enjoyable to be around who are very excellent at what they do,” he said. “It’s a great working environment.”
Dr. Brickner sees a connection between our mind and our bodies, in part because of who he doesn’t typically see in sports medicine. “People might be unhappy with something so an illness or injury can give them a break from that,” he said. “We don’t face that as much in sports medicine.” The students who see Dr. Brickner want to heal, and usually, quickly.
Dr. Brickner has an intimate view of the connection between mind and body with his student athletes. As team physician, he sees more everyday interactions with his athletes, and recognizes how those interactions impact the quality of practice and play. High stress can correlate with injuries. “Sometimes that’s the problem – we can’t get them to slow down,” he added. Overuse injuries such as stress fractures, shin splints, and tendinitis are some of the most commonly seen in Sports Medicine. His advice? “Avoid the terrible ‘too’s’,” he quipped. “Too much, too new, too soon, too often.”
Come see for yourself
Dr. Brickner works in the Sports Medicine clinic, and can be found on the first floor of Campus Health or various campus athletic and sports medicine sites.