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(SACRAMENTO) — When Team USA superstar gymnast Simone Biles struggled to land a vault Tuesday at the Tokyo Olympics and withdrew from competition, she was quickly cared for by a UC Davis Health sports medicine physician who is a go-to doctor for the elite athlete.
UC Davis Health physician Marcia “Marcy” Faustin is co-head team physician for USA Gymnastics
These days, Faustin is on the sideline at the Ariake Gymnastic Centre in Tokyo, at the ready to huddle with athletes and their coaches in assessing any kind of physical or mental health condition that may arise during the games.
Being a team doctor at the 2020 Summer Olympic Games doesn’t mean Faustin is immune to the wide range of emotions while viewing the breath-taking floor routines, death-defying vaults and dramatic dismounts from the uneven bars.
“It’s nerve-racking to watch them,” she admits, “but it’s also exciting to be in the room and watch greatness occur right in front of you.”
Faustin trained in family medicine. She came to UC Davis Health nearly four years ago, first to the Elk Grove primary care clinic, then to the Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation. She treats athletes of all ages and levels at the C Street sports medicine clinic in Sacramento, and she’s a team physician for UC Davis intercollegiate athletes, Sacramento Republic FC and various local junior colleges.
She’s also a former club and high school gymnast, high school volleyball player and Division I track and field athlete – an impressive yet eclectic combination that draws the respect and adoration of her patients, whether amateur, collegiate or professional.
“Dr. Marcy,” as Biles and other Olympians affectionately call their team physician, is known for her endless energy and dedication to her contract position with USA Gymnastics (USAG), the sport’s national governing body that trains athletes of all levels, including elite athletes for national and international competition.
“Dr. Faustin’s team knows she is there for them 100% — she is their doctor,” said Brandee Waite, a UC Davis Health sports medicine physician who serves as doctor to the Sacramento Republic FC and teams at three local colleges, including UC Davis.
“A dream come true”
Faustin, a 2013 graduate of the University of Chicago Pritzker School of Medicine, spent several years volunteering on the medical team for USA Gymnastics. She accepted the opportunity of a lifetime in 2019 to be co-head women’s team doctor along with Ellen Casey, a sports medicine physician at the Hospital for Special Surgery, in New York.
The duo travel to the most important competitions on the women’s national gymnastics circuit, as well as USAG training camps every month or so. They show gymnasts how to stay healthy, take care of their primary care and musculoskeletal needs, assess for mental health issues and provide valuable advice to coaches, such as estimating how long injuries will take to heal.
“It is a dream come true,” Faustin said in an interview before leaving for Japan. “I get to take care of these incredible and resilient athletes and young women, and to do it within a sport that I love, on an international level, is really exciting.”
Marcia “Marcy” Faustin is also a sports medicine physician in the UC Davis Health Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation
Adding to the excitement, Faustin is a huge sports fan and had never been to the Olympic Games.
Colleagues say one of Faustin’s greatest attributes is the way she connects with athletes because she’s been one herself.
“It’s like having someone who speaks the language – understands what those student athletes go through on a day-in, day-out basis, understands how best to help them to reach their goals with managing all the things they have to manage, particularly when it comes to injuries,” said John Lavallee, the women’s gymnastics coach for UC Davis who has known Faustin for years.
Athletes love Faustin’s “energetic and fun-filled bedside manner,” Waite said.
“She represents a safe, secure place to bring issues that come up and may be hard for the athletes to otherwise discuss,” Waite added. “She jokes that they watch the same TV shows and can talk about pop culture simultaneously as she provides excellent clinical care.”
Faustin, the daughter of Haitian immigrants, was born in New York and raised south of Chicago in Orland Park where her father encouraged her and her three sisters to play sports.
Faustin also got a preview of health careers at a young age when her mother, a home health nurse, occasionally took her daughters into the homes of patients to observe their mom’s occupation.
“I just loved to watch how she used science to help treat the patients, and then she exemplified that human side of it, and the empathy, and the way that she just changed their lives,” Faustin said. “That’s where I got really excited about medicine and taking care of patients.”
Being a doctor wasn’t Faustin’s first career choice
Faustin entered the University of Chicago intending to be a nurse. But she changed plans when she learned her track and field scholarship was incompatible with the rigorous nursing program.
She became a biology major instead, which in turn led to more science classes through a post baccalaureate education program after graduation. She then went to medical school, a family medicine residency and finally a primary care sports medicine fellowship at UC San Diego, which she completed in 2017.
Faustin was recruited to UC Davis by Jeffrey Tanji, a nationally recognized UC Davis Health sports medicine physician leader.
When she’s not working at sporting events, seeing patients or collaborating on research studies, Faustin can be found mentoring medical students, residents and fellows in her role as assistant clinical professor.
It’s a task she cherishes.
“I believe wholeheartedly that mentors are the reason why I am successful and I’m able to do what I’m doing today,” Faustin said.
Waite, co-director of the UC Davis School of Medicine’s sports medicine fellowship program, said Faustin’s role in the Olympics has brought a sense of excitement and connection to Team USA for the clinic faculty, staff, trainees and patients.
“Don’t let her easy demeanor and approachability fool you into thinking she is anything less than a brilliant physician,” Waite said. “Sometimes with vibrant female professionals, people underestimate their intellect, but make no mistake, Dr. Faustin is an astute and talented physician.”
Waite added: “We are so fortunate to have her at UC Davis Health sports medicine and as a faculty member in our department.”