Scholar-Athlete Initiative

The Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai’s Scholar-Athlete Initiative is a partnership with local and national organizations to raise awareness about careers in health care and science among scholar-athletes. We are specifically focusing on Scholar-athletes With Academic Goals (SWAG)., i.e. Scholar athletes with SWAG. Our message is that participation in athletics and striving for academic excellence prepares them for success in these careers. While it is not easy, they can do both.

The initiative targets two groups:

  • Junior-high and high-school student-athletes
  • National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) athletes 

Scholar-Athlete Summit

On June 22, 2019, a one-day Scholar-Athlete Summit was held at the Icahn School of Medicine in New York City. The summit brought together stakeholders for an engaging day of group discussions and lectures about careers as scientists and health care professionals. Participants included scholar-athletes, parents, medical student athletes, educators, coaches, physician athletes, medical and graduate school recruiters, and national leaders. Hannah Valantine, MD, Chief Officer for Scientific Workforce Diversity at the National Institutes of Health (NIH), delivered the keynote address. Other speakers included officials from the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC), National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA), scholar-athletes, physicians, nurses, athletic trainers, and distinguished athletic and health administrators.

Watch the event video.

The event, hosted by the Icahn School of Medicine’s Diversity in Biomedical Research Council (DBRC) and the Mount Sinai Health System’s Office for Diversity and Inclusion (ODI), covered the following:

  • How experience as an athlete enhances ones success in science and/or health careers
  • Awareness of pipeline programs that enhance academic preparedness
  • Opportunities available to Scholar-Athletes in science and/or health careers
  • Lessons learned from former athletes (medical students and physicians)


Racial and ethnic minorities comprise roughly 25 percent of the U.S. population, yet they receive only 16 percent of the science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) bachelor degrees conferred in the United States. Similarly, African Americans and Latinos account for only 11 percent of STEM master’s degrees, and 5 percent of STEM doctoral degrees. As a result, these groups are very much underrepresented in medical and other health professional schools. In fact, studies show that African American males are the only demographic to see declines or only modest increases in medical school matriculation rates over the past 40 years.

As a result, organizations such as the NIH’s Office for Scientific Workforce Diversity, AAMC, and the NCAA have suggested developing other, non-traditional pipelines, i.e., Scholar Athletes. Student-athletes develop character traits—self-confidence, dedication to tasks, resilience, and good time management—which are also important for success in STEM students and professionals. Outreach to this population has become a national conversation. One goal of the SWAG Summit was to jump-start our local efforts.

Summer Program – Next Steps

Working with programs such as Youth Education through Sports, Inc. (YES, Inc), Arthur Ashe Institute for Urban Health, Area Health Education Centers (AHEC), and other programs and organizations, we will develop a four- to eight-week summer program. The program will consist of:

  • Weekly lectures on sports physiology and sports medicine. This might include a focus on anatomy and physiology.
  • Small group activities based on sports-related medical cases. Students will solve problems and prepare presentations about conditions that affect athletes. Examples include sprains and strains, fractures, hypertension, nutrition and supplement issues, eating disorders, and traumatic brain injury. We may also hold anatomy labs.
  • Independent learning activities that will give students the opportunity to develop and perform research projects. They will prepare a final report and presentation.
  • College and career preparation that will teach students about health care careers such as physical therapy, occupational therapy, nursing, diagnostic radiology, public health, medicine, and research. We will also work on test-taking skills and assist them in completing college applications.