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Women's History Month: Dr. Zoe Foster Looks to Pay It Forward
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Women's History Month: Dr. Zoe Foster Looks to Pay It Forward

by Brad Muller, Director of Content

As the medical director for South Carolina Athletics and program director of the Prisma Health University of South Carolina Primary Sports Care Fellowship Program, Dr. Zoe Foster has a lot on her plate, and she stands out in her field. To her knowledge, there are 41 female medical directors out of the NCAA’s 358 Division I member schools, and Foster is proud to be part of an increasing number in the field.
Zoe Foster profile photo
“Historically there has been a low number of women in sports medicine, but that number is growing,” said Dr. Foster, who spent most of her life in Michigan before coming to South Carolina in 2019. “Part of my job for the fellowship program is to recruit and train people who look like our student-athletes. When you look at our student-athletes, half of them are women, and for some our sports, many of them are black.

“One of the things I love about this role is the people that I get to work with.”

Being in such a position is the result of hard work, and Dr. Foster hopes she can serve as an inspiration to other women as well.

“I’m here because I had mentors and role models who have helped me get here in one way or another,” Dr. Foster. “The advice I would give to other women trying to get into this type of position is to find those people who are willing to mentor you. Ask them questions and see who they can introduce you to, because a lot of what we do is all about networking. It’s who you know. There is a whole list of women who I have to give credit for helping me get where I am today. I would be remiss if I didn’t return that favor to someone else.”

Dr. Foster completed her undergraduate work, medical school, and fellowship at the University of Michigan before working at family residence practice in Pennsylvania. She initially came to South Carolina to be the program director for the fellowship program and moved into her role with the Gamecocks in July 2021. Her path to South Carolina was part of a childhood dream.

“I realized I wanted to become a doctor when I was in high school,” Dr. Forster said. “I had the fortune of taking an anatomy and physiology class in high school with a great teacher who really inspired my passion for that. My intention had always been family medicine, and it’s still near and dear to what I do and hadn’t realized that sports medicine was an option until I was a resident.

“In my second year of residency, I met a physician who was previously an athletic trainer and was such an integral part of that community. That’s what made me realize sports medicine was something I enjoyed and had a passion for.”

“People that were here in this role before me have done so much to make our University a better place, and I’m hoping to continue to build on that and make this a place that people look at nationally as the model of care for our student-athletes.”

At one point in her career, she had spent 15 years as a volunteer team physician for a high school in Pinckney, Michigan, further inspiring her love of working in sports medicine.

Her role as medical director requires a lot of coordination and communication and is more than simply finding the right doctor to treat an injury. It’s dealing with athletic trainers, doctors, nutritionists, dieticians, mental health, and sport performance professionals. South Carolina student-athletes have access to many resources to make sure they are cared for from a physical, mental, and nutritional standpoint, but directing the Gamecocks to those resources is a big task.

“There is a lot of overlap in all the care that we provide,” Dr. Foster said. “This is a very collaborative role. For example, I’ve recently been working with our colleagues in nutrition. We’ve drafted a ferritin screening policy. We screen our female student-athletes for iron deficiency by checking a blood test called ferritin. Our athletic trainers have a role in that, and it’s a concern for our coaches because we know that athletes with lower ferritin levels can have challenges in terms of performance. I’ve been working with all of them to determine what our standard of care is and make sure we’re taking the best care possible.

“I’ve also been working with our athletic trainers and other team physicians on a consultant list. In athletics, we have very specific needs. We ask a lot of our referring consultants because we need our student-athletes to be seen at the time we need them to be seen! We’ve come up with a list of people who can meet our needs who we believe are the best people in their field and can really take care of our student-athletes the way we want them to be taken care of.

“One of the other things I’m currently doing is working with our mental health and sports performance teams on things such as trying to refine the questions we ask our student-athletes every year and the questions we ask our incoming student-athletes on their pre-participation exam in terms of screening for anxiety, sleep issues, alcohol use, and try to figure out how we can best connect with people who need help. We want to be sure we are taking the best care of our student-athletes.”

Perhaps one of her biggest challenges has been working through a pandemic as she was a part of the Southeastern Conference’s Pandemic Task Force, comprised of medical professionals representing the league’s 14 universities to recommend and implement best practices and protocols.

“There was a lot of diversity of perspectives in that group, which is something I really appreciate,” Dr. Foster said. “It is a very collaborative group. I think the SEC has really been a national leader in putting out their policy. COVID has certainly been one of the biggest challenges in this job.”

Dr. Foster said the amount of care that is available to the Gamecocks stacks up very well compared to many of the University’s peers around the country.

“We have made some great strides in our mental health group and have added a lot of providers with a wide variety of expertise,” Dr. Foster said. “Our nutrition department was recently expanded, so we can connect and make a greater impact with our student-athletes. Our athletic trainers do a great job in all the things they do, and with the pandemic the last two years, we’ve been asking even more from them to make sure that our teams stay healthy. We are part of a great multidisciplinary group that works well together.”

In her roles with the Gamecocks and the fellowship program, Dr. Foster finds a lot of satisfaction.

“I get to watch people grow into accomplished sports medicine physicians through the fellowship program and be a little part of that,” Dr. Foster said. “The same is true with our student-athletes. Watching them over their four years with us, it’s exciting to be a part of their growth and success.”

Looking ahead, Dr. Foster said she wants to continue to elevate the care for the student-athletes.

“People that were here in this role before me have done so much to make our University a better place, and I’m hoping to continue to build on that and make this a place that people look at nationally as the model of care for our student-athletes.”


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