UCSF Fresno Family Physician’s Goal is to Make Health Care More Accessible to Student Athletes  

Kulraj Dhah, DO

Growing up in Fresno, Kulraj Dhah, DO, played soccer, basketball and baseball. Like many athletes, he had the occasional sports injury, and he particularly recalls a broken finger requiring a trip to the Emergency Department. The hospital visit is a vivid memory because he seldom saw a doctor for ailments, relying on care at home because his family could not afford health insurance. 

Now, Dr. Dhah is a UCSF Fresno Family and Community Medicine physician with a Sports Medicine specialty, and his priority is making health care more accessible to student athletes, regardless of family insurance status. 

Dr. Dhah gives free sports physicals for high school athletes to be able to play. He volunteers on the sidelines at McLane High School football games. He is the volunteer physician for Reedley College’s football team. He is the sports medicine consultant for Central Valley Fuego, the professional soccer team here locally. And he provides care at three sports medicine clinics in Fresno that he created to help students who have Medi-Cal, the state-federal insurance for people of low-income. 

“It was only if it was an absolute emergency when we saw a doctor growing up. So, coming back and doing Sports Medicine, I felt I could help my community and provide services for many who do not have access,” he says. 

Dr. Dhah developed an interest in Sports Medicine at osteopathic medical school at A.T. Still University in Arizona. While completing Family and Community Medicine residency at UCSF Fresno, he pitched an idea of a sports medicine clinic, and returning to UCSF Fresno as a UCSF assistant clinical professor in 2019, he created a Sports Medicine Clinic at Family Health Care Network (FHCN). 

FHCN is a federally qualified health center in downtown Fresno that accepts patients with Medi-Cal. It was important for Dr. Dhah that the Sports Medicine Clinic accept Medi-Cal patients because many of the high school and college athletes in Fresno have Medi-Cal as their insurance provider. 

He also helped open Sports Medicine Clinics at United Health Centers locations – one near Fresno State and another near Sunnyside High School. United Health Centers is a federally qualified health center that also accepts Medi-Cal. 

At the clinics, Dr. Dhah has been able to get student athletes diagnostic tests and X-rays and establish treatment plans so the patients can safely play again. For athletes needing surgery, he helps arrange appointments with orthopaedic surgeons. “But most musculoskeletal injuries – about 90% – don’t require surgery,” he says. 

Dr. Dhah works closely with Emergency Medical Services (EMS) staff and Fresno Unified athletic trainers on the sidelines at football games at McLane High School. An ambulance and EMS staff must be on site at football games. A physician is not required to be present, “but it’s just nice to have a sports doctor out there, helping out,” says Brett Mar, athletic manager at Fresno Unified. 

Dr. Dhah talks to a student athlete 

Dr. Dhah provides free sports physicals, including Family and Community Medicine residents in the volunteer service. Without a sports physical, a student athlete cannot play. The physicals are conducted on school campuses, which makes it easier for students who lack transportation to access the free service. “I reached out to the athletic directors for Fresno Unified five years ago and asked if they needed any help with sports medicine coverage, sports physicals throughout the year,” Dr. Dhah says. “They didn’t have anybody at all doing it on a consistent basis at that point. And they were really happy to have us come out there and start working with them.” 

During sports physicals, Dr. Dhah says he has learned some students do not have a primary care doctor and are uninsured. “I was a part of that community growing up,” he says. “So, we are doing a lot of advising families to apply for Medi-Cal. We are able to get some of them to sign up and go through the process and get insurance so the students actually can be seen in clinics and hospitals. And if they need more advanced care they can get it, because they have insurance. Without insurance you can’t be referred to a specialist.” 

Mar says helping student athletes and their families walk through the process of applying for Medi-Cal is a needed and welcome service. “We live in an impoverished area,” he says. “And a lot of people don’t know there’s a need out there with our students.” 

The Sports Medicine Clinics have grown in popularity over the past few years. “We’ve built up the patient volume, so we have three full days of Sports Medicine Clinics

now between Family Health Care Network and United Health Centers,” Dr. Dhah says. Third-year UCSF Fresno Family and Community Medicine residents rotate with Dr. Dhah and see patients at the clinics for their Orthopaedic/Sports Medicine month training block. Second-year residents also can choose the rotation as an elective. UCSF Fresno Pediatrics assigns second-year residents to rotate at the clinics as part of their adolescent rotation. 

About the same time that Dr. Dhah began offering free sports physicals at Fresno Unified and began volunteering at McLane High School football games, he was approached by Reedley College for help with medical coverage. “We agreed to start working with them as well. So, I have been the team physician for Reedley College for the past five years. That has been a really good experience, going out there and helping out the students there. It’s all volunteer. What we do for Fresno Unified and for Reedley College, that’s all volunteer for us.” 

Mar says Dr. Dhah has helped a lot of student athletes through his volunteerism. “We just are very, very appreciative of his willingness to serve the community and give back.” 

Dr. Dhah says it has been a great experience for himself and for UCSF Fresno Family and Community Medicine residents to provide services to student athletes.  “It’ just really gratifying to get out in the community a lot more and use our skills directly out there in the community to increase access to medical care.”  

Part of Newsletter: Focus on UCSF Fresno Winter 2024