Photo of Penelope Halkiadakis

Case Western Reserve University medical student chosen to participate in NFL initiative to increase patient advocacy and diversity in sports medicine

Aspiring orthopedic surgeon Penelope Halkiadakis to shadow Cleveland Browns

As a soccer enthusiast and player, Penelope Halkiadakis, a third-year student at Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine, frequently visited her sports medicine doctor’s office for injuries.

But what really ignited her interest in pursuing a career in medicine was working as a volunteer “cadet” EMT during high school in New Jersey. Through that work, she witnessed firsthand the importance of empathy and listening to patients while comforting them during the most critical moments of their lives. She learned how vital it was to relate to patients and gain their trust.

And now, as Halkiadakis continues studying to become an orthopedic surgeon, comes a high-profile and rare opportunity: She’s been chosen to take part in the National Football League’s (NFL) Diversity in Sports Medicine Pipeline Initiative.

This fall, Halkiadakis will work a one-month clinical rotation with the Cleveland Browns medical staff. More specifically, she will work with the Browns’ orthopedic surgeons, primary care sports medicine, concussion/neuro, nutrition and athletic training team. She’ll also get to attend home games and observe from the sidelines.

“I learned that sports medicine encompasses not only injury prevention, treatment and rehabilitation,” she said, “but also patient advocacy and developing long-term partnerships to help patients become resilient and navigate their athletic identity.”  

Case Western Reserve is one of 19 medical schools affiliated with NFL teams from across the league. The initiative, now in its second year, was started in response to the historically low representation of diverse medical students in training—especially those pursuing careers as sports medicine specialists.

“We know that diversity makes us stronger at every level, and we look forward to welcoming the 2023 class to our player care teams at clubs across the league,” NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said in announcing the selected medical students.

The NFL, NFL Physicians Society (NFLPS) and Professional Athletic Trainers Society (PFATS) collaborated to create the program to expand and diversify the pipeline of students interested in pursuing careers in sports medicine—and benefit the medical community and contribute to a more diverse medical staff at NFL clubs.

According to the Association of American Medical Colleges, enrollment of diverse students is increasing. During the 2022–23 academic year, “the number of Black or African American matriculants increased by 9%,” and “matriculants who are Hispanic, Latino, or of Spanish origin increased by 4%,” while “American Indian or Alaska Native matriculants declined by 9%.”

Halkiadakis, who serves as vice chair of the board of directors for Amnesty International USA, was chosen for her holistic approach to medicine. Her involvement for the past 10 years serves as a constant reminder of the importance of patient advocacy within the medical field.

“Penelope sees this world of health, healing, and wellness as more than a vocation,” said Lia Logio, vice dean for medical education at the School of Medicine. “It is clear to us that she sees medicine as a calling. We couldn’t be more excited for her.”

For more information, contact Patty Zamora at

This article was originally published June 15, 2023.