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Skating into his Future

May 1, 2017

Talking about healthcare these days can cause a person a lot of stress and invariably heated discussions. It’s scary. It’s not an easy thing to unpack or understand. There may be too many players at the table, but one thing is for sure, a career in Health Services Administration will be incredibly diverse and interesting. That’s exactly what drew Damian Dodge to eventually settle on it as a major. 
Dodge began his collegiate experience at Drexel as a biology student looking to go into medicine, so a desire to be in healthcare was already there. His first 12 to 18 months were stressful, not only for the typical reasons that most find college demanding, but also because Dodge represents the United States as a top-ten, nationally ranked ice dancer who, along with his partner, spends six to eight hours per day on the sport. He began to question his choice of major. “After the first year or so, I just wasn’t really sure about bio, especially with skating and all of my other experiences,” said Dodge. “I was having a hard time relating it to my life. Then I took a Health Services Administration (HSAD) class and it revealed this whole other world of healthcare that didn’t involve being in a clinical situation,” he added. He said that the more classes he took, the more he could relate the information to his skating, coaching and volunteering as a crisis counselor. It just seemed to be a much better fit for him.
Having just advanced to the seniors, he wants to see how far he and his partner, Julia Biechler, can take skating, but Dodge has also put some thought into what he wants to do with his HSAD degree. Pushing his body to the degree he does requires constant surveillance. He’s had a bevy of sports therapists and orthopedic specialists over his career and knows how perilous having poor options in healthcare can be for skaters. He’s not disregarding disparities that the state of our current healthcare system has for many, and he’s well aware of the limitations and restrictions doctors and other clinicians have placed on them. It’s that shift from quality of care to meeting quotas for many of the doctors Dodge has seen that has proven being a doctor was not for him. His HSAD classes opened his eyes to everything administrators have a hand in — human resources, patient relations, quality assurance, program creation and implementation and organizational development. “I could go into risk management to help doctors who, while they are doing their jobs and delivering better care, may miss something,” he stated. “Imagine if two patients with the exact same last name were put in the same hospital room. A mistake could be catastrophic for both patients and the organization. That’s when the risk manager comes in and says, ‘maybe it’s not a great idea to have two Smiths in the same room.’” Dodge realized what an incredible impact he could have on an entire organization from the patients to the employees and stakeholders. Administrators focus on accountability for patient care as well as the bottom line.
Dodge’s experience as an athlete has identified another area of administration where attention needs to be paid; non-professional athletics. “With sports like skating where you don’t go professional — that’s like retiring for us — we are like the NCAA athletes where we can’t get paid to train or compete,” he explained. Skaters can get sponsors and grants, but it rarely covers all their expenses, including and especially the medical ones. He pays $300 per week (his co-pay) for physical therapy as part of his regular training. Injury can be disastrous particularly when you may not be able to afford the best medical care to get back to training quickly. “I’ve seen world-class athletes, at the top of their career with the right coaches and prime skating locations, suffer a devastating injury. Because of their location and insurance, they are forced to take whatever care they get.” The quality of care he and his ilk have access to is very different than that of a professional athlete who have doctors, therapists and trainers as part of their team. “It seems like they don’t have to worry about anything because they have someone available to them 24/7,” he shared. “It’s not like that for skaters. When we travel for competition, Team U.S.A has a doctor and staff and there are healthcare administrators who work with athletes at our headquarters.” He’s decided that he, too, would like to work with athletes in some capacity. He’s s seen far too many skaters quit because of finances and staying healthy. “It comes down to ‘I can either eat or have another lesson or I had physical therapy this month so I can’t afford my rent.’” Dodge admits it’s a lofty goal, but he wants to play a part in determining a way to resolve this for skaters.
Another area of Dodge’s life that plays a part in his love of health services administration is his volunteering as a counselor for Crisis Text Line. For the last two years, he’s texted with countless individuals who need someone to talk to but for whatever reason can’t call. Crisis Text Line is free, 24/7 support for those in crisis. Anyone of any age can text 741741 from anywhere in the USA to text with a trained crisis counselor. He sees it as an awesome responsibility to potentially have someone’s life in your hands. Dodge admits how much pressure there is doing this kind of work and the grueling training, something with which he is quite familiar, they go through so they can handle everything from suicide, mental and physical abuse, relationships and parents. He explained that the nonprofit provides counseling for the counselors especially if they have an active rescue. “There are a series of questions we have to ask through a series of steps to code a texter, like the ER. If someone is at a level four, we’re required to have our services send a signal to their phone to locate them then we have to call the local authorities so they can get to them quickly,” Dodge said. He disclosed that his first active rescue was the worst thing he’d experienced. “You’re texting with someone for an hour or more and they stop answering or they make a particular comment and you won’t hear from them again.” But he’s had good outcomes too. Someone texted in that “I talked to Damian. He saved my life.” Crisis counselors hear the worst fathomable stories, but Dodge finds it so rewarding when he can help someone find a way to cope. He chose Crisis Text Line because of how quickly they are growing. Initially it started as group support in different communities doing youth counseling. “It was just talk support for people in different circumstances,” he described. “But then, one day, someone texted into the company, ‘my dad is raping me every day. He’s in the room. I can’t call. Please help.’ That’s when they saw the benefit of having a 100 percent, text-only service,” added Dodge. He reported that most of what they get are kids during the school day who duck into the bathroom stall when they are getting bullied. He’s texted with kids that are seven and eight years old, but he’s also communicated with people who are 80. Another benefit of the service is, because of agreements they have with all the big data providers (AT&T, Sprint, etc.), nothing will show up on a bill or anywhere someone could see it. There is a record kept by Crisis Text Line, but once a person texts ‘Stop,’ the system closes down and when he or she deletes the conversation, it’s gone.
This training has also helped Dodge in his capacity as a skating coach. “I now pick up on subtle things my students say,” he shared. That seems to be helpful for both him and them. “I work with these kids 10 to 15 hours a week — I’m a big part of their lives. They train, go to school and go home. If they can’t open up, then what happens?” He had a student who was self-harming and drinking at 14 years old. He picked up on a comment, something that didn’t sit well with him and because of his training, he knew what questions to ask. He admits the scrutiny and bullying today’s kids are exposed to is terrible. All it takes is someone to record one mistake you make and post it online for a life to take a tragic turn. Dodge is grateful for this training and readily acknowledges that it has helped in so many areas of his life including pursuing his education at Drexel.
Come June 13, Damian Dodge will graduate with a degree in Health Services Administration and a minor in organizational management. Despite his skating career and his volunteer work with Crisis Text Line, he is graduating on time. “I spend eight to ten hours a day on my sport and another two to four hours volunteering and that doesn’t include traveling to compete,” he explained. “I’ve had some extremely understanding professors and some who aren’t. Some terms I’ve missed three or four weeks of classes, and somehow it hasn’t taken me longer than four years to finish.” It’s clear that Damian Dodge will be very successful in his future endeavors. If he can be as organized a health services administrator as he is a skater, student, coach and crisis counselor, the sky will be his only limit.

Written by Roberta S. Perry