Residency Corner: Howard Head Sports Residency


Howard Head Sports Residency is based out of Vail, Colorado within the Vail Valley Medical System.  Their sports residency program is a full-time 13 month commitment.  A resident is exposed to on-field assessment and management of athletes along with return to sport rehabilitation and injury prevention for traditional and non-traditional athletes such as the USA Ski Team, USA Climbing Team and X-game participants. Their program is multi-disciplinary, providing access and collaboration opportunities with orthopaedic surgeons, board certified physical therapists and athletic trainers. The mission of the HHSR is

to provide advanced didactic, clinical, and research training to develop highly skilled, patient focused physical therapists that exemplify the core values of VVMC and are leaders in the specialty of Sports Physical Therapy in the communities they serve.

Their program has been in existence since 2008.  Due to a change in the structure of the organization, they had to re-apply for accreditation. Currently, they are accredited as a “developing program” and seeking full accreditation with the completion of the 2017 cohort.

To find more information about the program, please see their program description here.


Nick Hagen, PT, DPT, CFMT, SCS, CSCS, USAW-1 is a physical therapist, strength coach, and clinic manager of Rebound Physical Therapy in Bend, Oregon.  He manages three clinics in the area including a sports performance center, a sports biomechanics lab, and a traditional sports medicine private outpatient clinic.  He currently teaches through Institute of Physical Art, educates at local and national conferences, and consults for professional sports teams.  Additionally, he has created an educational website called iiP Lab (isolate, integrate, then perform). For more information about Nick or his clinic, see Rebound Physical Therapy.

Nicholas completed a Sports Residency program through Howard Head Sports Medicine Center in 2011 and a Traveling Fellowship through the Sports Section of the APTA the following year.  See below for the interview about his experience at Howard Head Sports Residency.

What makes the Howard Head Sports residency program unique compared to other programs?

The Howard Head Sports Residency program was different due to the patient population and level of collaboration with medical doctors.  You are provided the chance to do event coverage for the US Ski team, Teva Mountain Games, X Games, and US Pro Cycling challenge.  You can treat professional endurance and adventure athletes.  Likewise, the treatment plan of care is developed along with a premier orthopedic group: the Steadman Clinic.  These opportunities are not available to a typical therapist or residency program. 

What would you consider the strengths of this program?

The strengths of the sports residency program is in the program design, return to sport development, acute care management, post-operative rehabilitation, and screen/assessment methods.  The resident leaves with a foundation on how to appropriate progress any patient to any athletic goal.

What time (length of program and hours/week) and financial implications should students expect when entering the residency?

The Howard Head Sports Residency is set up where the resident does not spend money to attend rather receives a lower paying salary to compensation for residency education.  The program is 18 months and involves roughly 15 hours a week of mentorship, 4 hours a week of educational content, and 4 hours a week of sports event exposure.

What makes focused learning within a residency worth pursuing?

Regardless of the residency, any future physical therapist needs a structured mentorship program after school to improve skills and clinical reasoning within their desired PT discipline.  The Howard Head Sports Residency is designed for those interested in developing skills management of acute care and post operative sports physical therapist.

What advice would you give to students that are seriously interested in pursuing residency training?

Find a career path you are interested in and then find a residency that relates to that specific type of physical therapy.  Do not stress the exact residency provider to start.  All residencies have strengths and weakness.

It is less about the specific program but more about what you do with the skill you acquire after the residency.  Use it to build your long term career plan and help open doors to future opportunities.  

The goal should be to have structured mentoring requiring the resident to be accountable to have ownership of the material.

What additional opportunities do residents pursue after completing their training?

After completing a residency it should provide you opportunities for further education (sports fellowship), teaching, and allow for job interviews others might not be able to obtain.  Having done both a sports residency and a manual therapy certification through the Institute of Physical Art (IPA) they both created great opportunities I would not of been able to get on my own.  Specifically the sports residency allowed me to work with professional sports teams, complete a traveling sports fellowship, and have more ease with journal publication.  The IPA certification allowed opportunities to teach, develop new course work, start my own residency through the IPA, and teach at local and national conferences.  Both were incredibly valuable in my development as a physical therapist.

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  1. great interview! thanks for posting


  2. Good to know that such unique training programs are offered. Sports medical area is really a much-ignored topic and when I read such things it really makes me happy. Keep up the good work.


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