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Justin Burkholder

BS business administration '10

Justin posing in front of handball court at Rio Olympics

During the Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro in August, the top athletes in the world came together to compete for gold. Millions were watching as they gave the performances of their lives.

This story, however, is about a different kind of Olympic performance – the coordinated, often behind-the-scenes effort of medical professionals like Dr. Justin Burkholder, BS '10, who were at every match, on every field and in every arena.

Several months ago, after performing emergency surgery while rotating at Miami's world renowned Ryder Trauma Center, Burkholder struck up an interesting conversation with trauma surgeon Dr. Antonio Marttos. "Dr. Marttos mentioned that he was going to be taking a medical team to Rio for the Olympics," Burkholder recalls. "I told him, 'I love sports! I love Rio!' and I asked if he had any open positions on his team."

As it turns out, Marttos did.

"I believe that everything happens for a reason, and I believe one of the reasons I got this opportunity was because of my co-op at Drexel," says Burkholder.

About halfway through his time majoring in finance at the LeBow College of Business, Burkholder decided he wanted to go to medical school. He did a co-op at Glaxo Smith Kline (GSK) and then worked there for a year after graduation before heading to the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine where he graduated with his medical degree in 2015.

At GSK, Burkholder traveled to Rio de Janeiro for three months to work at the company's Latin American headquarters. It was then that he developed a great affinity for Rio and even learned Portuguese – a skill that would come in handy during his time at the Olympics.

A few short months after that serendipitous encounter with Dr. Marttos, Burkholder was on a plane headed for to Rio, just in time for the opening ceremony, which had an expected attendance of at least 75,000 people.

"I got my uniform and met with the medical team in the basement of the stadium," says Burkholder. "We had to put together a plan within two hours to staff one of the largest stadiums in the world for any medical emergencies. Thankfully nothing happened, and it was an awesome ceremony."

Burkholder's assignment throughout the duration of the Olympics was to be the field of play (FOP) physician on a four-person medical team in the Olympic handball venue, the Future Arena.

"If a player needed, we could stabilize, evacuate and resuscitate them in our trauma bay," says Burkholder. "We had a fully staffed, fully functional clinic in the arena and if indicated, we would transfer the patient to a local hospital."

Though he personally encountered no major injuries, Burkholder recalls that it was stressful to be watched by millions, and that the medical teams trained hard under immense pressure, planning for the worst. They had maps and radios and also used hand signals to communicate with one another.

After his eight-day shift, Burkholder had time to relax and enjoy some of the Olympic Games as a spectator – an experience he says he will always remember.

"I've always been an athlete and a big sports fan, so to work in the Olympics as a physician was an extraordinary honor," says Burkholder.

As a freshmen in 2006, Burkholder and classmate Dr. Evan Cyrkin, BS '09, founded the Drexel Squash Club. A few years later, squash officially became one of the University's Division I sports with state-of-the-art facilities in the Kline & Specter Squash Center, now with both men's and women's teams ranked in the top 10 in the country. Burkholder, an avid squash fan and a proud Drexel Squash supporter, frequents matches when in Philadelphia and has maintained close ties with the team.

Reflecting on his once in a lifetime experience at the Olympics, Burkholder says "My recommendation to current Drexel students and Drexel alumni is to find a passion, set a goal, work hard, take a risk and most importantly, maintain a positive attitude. Combine that with a Drexel education and you can achieve anything!"

Burkholder extends thanks to his Drexel professors and mentors who have helped him get to this point in his career. He is also very thankful for the flexibility he was offered to attend the Olympics by his residency directors Dr. Dalley and Dr. Edwards at Mount Sinai Medical Center in Miami Beach where he is completing his second year of Emergency Medicine residency.