If you’re a die-hard New Orleans Saints follower, you know the rules of being a fan. Be at the Mercedes Benz Superdome extra early, arrive dressed in your Saints gear, and make sure the Saints’ war cry “WHO DAT?!” is yelled at the top of your lungs, as often as possible.
"Who dat? Who dat? Who dat say dey gonna beat dem Saints?"
A year ago, Larry “Chip” Bankston was sitting in the stands of the Superdome, cheering on the saints. He was born and raised in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, where he still lives with his wife and two young children.
Chip is also Chip Bankston, MD, an orthopedic surgeon specializing in sports medicine, shoulder and elbow care for Baton Rouge Orthopaedic Clinic. But as of 2017 he no longer cheers on the Saints from the stands. Now the official team physician to the New Orleans Saints, Dr. Bankston is on the sidelines of every home game and on the road with the team, where he is laser-focused on his job: providing the highest level of care to some of the NFL’s best athletes.
When Chip was in medical residency training at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, he trained under renowned orthopedic surgeon James Andrews MD and two of his junior partners, Lyle Cain and Jeff Dugas. Cain and Dugas had gone through training with James Fleischli MD, sports medicine surgeon at OrthoCarolina in Charlotte.
“Lyle and Jeff had great sports medicine experience and exposure which really is what steered me in that direction,” says Chip. “Another friend of mine had been one of the first fellows in the OrthoCarolina sports medicine fellowship and I knew it was a strong program, plus I was interested in living in the Carolinas, so it just felt natural to me to gravitate towards a fellowship with OrthoCarolina.”
OrthoCarolina was the only place that Chip interviewed for a fellowship, and when he was accepted he knew immediately he wanted the job. Before he moved to Charlotte, he went through a personal tragedy but says the support staff and residents in the fellowship program became his family and helped him through a tough personal time.
“It was a great learning experience and I can’t speak highly enough of the others in my program and the medical experts I trained under,” he says. “I came close to staying in Charlotte permanently.”
Ultimately, when his fellowship ended, Dr. Bankston, the newly-minted orthopedic surgeon returned home to Baton Rouge to be closer to family. His cousin is the head team physician for LSU sports, so he worked with local high school sports and intermittently with LSU providing training room and game coverage care.
When the Saints’ found themselves without a team physician, they reached out to Baton Rouge Orthopaedic Clinic to see if Dr. Bankston was interested and the puzzle pieces fell into place. Dr. Bankston’s fellowship resume in Charlotte included NFL experience, interaction with team providers and player care, as well as time spent with athletes at Davidson College, UNC Charlotte and the Charlotte Knights minor league baseball team. He says his hire was in part due to his background and sports medicine fellowship with OrthoCarolina, including work he did with Dr. Bob Anderson, Dr. Pat Connor, and the Carolina Panthers where he spent time at NFL combines and doing game day and training room coverage.
“They didn’t have to convince me to come on board,” says Dr. Bankston. “In my practice, I was at a place where it made sense for me to join the team.”
He still lives in Baton Rouge, but Dr. Bankston makes the 70-mile drive to New Orleans two to three times a week for injury clinics and visits. The roads he follows snake for miles along the Mississippi River, the second longest river in North America, also a major water source.
These days when the New Orleans Saints play the Carolina Panthers, Dr. Bankston can see Dr. Connor, the Panthers’ team physician, from across the field. Sometimes they get to catch up and talk before games. They’re equals now, providing outstanding care for athletes in an exhilarating sport often fraught with high stakes and player peril. But neither is a fan of their respective teams. Dr. Bankston says he’s not there to be a fan anymore, but rather to focus on his job – taking care of the athletes and giving his player patients the care they deserve. He says to be the best team physician he can be, his full concentration must be on the field and football players. While he’ll always support the Saints, he says it’s a unique experience as a doctor to have front row seats to injuries as they occur and to be able to make a quick diagnosis.
“Eight years ago and far before I took this job Pat [Connor] told me that when you’re a team doc, you’re not there to be a fan. You can’t let the stardom and fan experience cloud your ability to do your job and treat those players because it doesn’t serve them the way we need to serve them,” says Dr. Bankston. “Since taking over as the Saints’ team physician, I have been fortunate to still be able to turn to my fellowship mentors at OrthoCarolina for advice and guidance in caring for the NFL athlete.”