Jeff Milroy Dr.PH., MPH

Promoting Health, Engaging Communities, Changing Lives

Jeff Milroy Dr.PH., MPH

Public Health Challenges: Athlete Health and Wellness Dr. Jeff Milroy Taking on Concussion Reporting Research

Where is the link between research, technology, and effective innovation?  Dr. Jeff Milroy, UNCG Public Health Education’s Associate Director for the Institute to Promote Athlete Health & Wellness (The Institute), believes he has the answer to connecting these areas.  Dr. Milroy and a team of UNCG researchers are recent award recipients of the first ever NCAA and Department of Defense’s Grand Challenge.  The Grand Challenge awarded Dr. Milroy and fellow UNCG researcher Dr. David Wyrick $400,000 as they lead the way in cutting edge concussion research and innovative web-based interventions aimed at increasing Sports Related Concussion (SRC) reporting among collegiate student-athletes.

Today, the impact of SRC’s is becoming well-known given the tragic deaths of high profile athletes such as the NFL’s Frank Gifford, Ken Stabler, and Junior Seau, and NHL tough guy Todd Ewen.   These athletes are just some of a growing number to die from what researchers believe are due to repeated blows to the head that cause Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE), a degenerative brain disease.  Dr. Milroy is particularly interested in the public health issues around concussions reporting because “the reality is that young athletes are sustaining these injuries and many, 50-80%, are not reporting them, and that’s a huge problem.  We don’t know why…but we have ideas”.  Considering that nearly 4 million SRC’s are reported each year nationwide, the number of athlete not reporting symptoms of a concussion to their parents, coaches, or other athletic personnel is alarming.

While the potential long-term consequences of concussions are becoming more prominent, for Dr. Milroy, there is much work to be done to address “how we can change the culture from toughing it out to one of reporting”.  To address these issues, Milroy’s work will focus on contributing factors associated with non-reporting l of SRC’s, particularly factors like social norms and the role of coach communication.  Milroy and Wyrick hypothesize in their proposal that, “Coaches can positively impact their team’s culture of SRC reporting in a number of ways: dispelling beliefs that players will be unfairly judged or punished if they report suspected a SRC, normalizing health and safety and care seeking behaviors, and correcting misperceptions that coaches expect their athletes to play through SRCs”.  While endeavoring to change culture is, indeed, a challenging prospect, Milroy is confident and says past work has demonstrated change is possible and that there’s a “light at the end of the tunnel”.

At the heart of cultural change are relationships, which is apparent in both the products produced and process followed by Dr. Milroy’s and his Institute team.  Not only are Dr. Milroy and Institute researchers helping to craft innovations that strengthen interactions between student-athletes and coaches, they are deeply committed to developing relationships with community partners face to face.  This is a commitment that exceeds work around concussions. For example, Dr. Milroy has been the director of the program myPlaybook, a collection of online lessons that use evidence-based strategies to promote the health and well-being among student-athletes.  The success of the program has pivoted around meeting the needs of partners and developing research that not only answers important questions, but, as Dr. Milroy tells us, “can be translated into something that gives back”.

Dr. Milroy’s commitment to giving back carries into his teaching, too.  Noting the impact that fun and innovative research can have on students, he explains that “all of the work we do, I take back into the classroom”.  Dr. Milroy credits a lot of his ability to do work effectively to the larger culture he works within and says that UNCG’s Public Health Education Department “wholeheartedly values teaching”.  Clearly, Dr. Milroy’s work demonstrates creativity and innovation as well as an understanding of the value of teamwork to positively impact the health and wellness of communities across the nation.