AUBURN – Mike Goodlett grew up in Moulton, Ala., dreaming of being a sports star…or at least being able to hit a home run or run for a touchdown. That life wasn’t meant for him. Little did he know such a humble beginning would lead him to The Plains as the team physician for the Auburn Tigers.
“I was a very asthmatic child,” Dr. Goodlett explained. “Had my mother not been a nurse, I probably would have died several times before I was 12 years old. One night I was already pronounced dead in the emergency room when my mother called Dr. Robert Rhyne to the hospital. Dr. Rhyne came into the room and squirted some epinephrine down my tube and saved my life. I wouldn’t wheeze very much. I’d just turn black. The resident on call in the ER looked at my color and decided I was already gone. Dr. Rhyne saved my life that night.”
Dr. Goodlett never forgot that night in the emergency room, or Dr. Rhyne Years later, after tearing his ACL, he found himself in the famed Hughston Clinic for Orthopaedics and Sports Medicine and in the care of Dr. Jack Hughston. Now, his path was set.
“I had always wanted to play sports. And, ending up in Dr. Jack Hughston’s clinic…I just thought he was so cool! I really wanted to be a combination of Dr. Robert Rhyne and Dr. Jack Hughston. I wanted to be able to do what they did every day!” He laughed. “So, I did.”
Dr. Goodlett went to the University of South Alabama College of Medicine, and he specialized in family medicine at UAB affiliated Gadsden Baptist Memorial Hospital. He worked with Drs. James Andrews and Lawrence Lemak to gain expertise in sports medicine. In 1993 while en route to a family vacation, he got the surprise of a lifetime delivered in the most unusual way.
“My family and I were driving to Destin for a vacation when we were stopped by a State Trooper,” Dr. Goodlett said. “He said he didn’t know who I was but handed me a piece of paper and asked me to call the number on it. That’s how I found out we had just gotten the Auburn Tigers job. There went our vacation that summer, but what a trade off!”
Dr. Goodlett wasn’t exactly sure just how much his life was about to change that day, but he knew one thing was certain…change it would. He was about to become the team physician for about 600 athletes in all 21 of Auburn’s athletic programs. For the first 22 years, he was the only full-time physician. Now, there are two more full-time partners that are also VCOM professors and sports-trained physicians as well as a fellow.
“Every day has been an adventure since that first day. It has been a true pleasure taking care of these student athletes. It’s a unique practice to say the least,” Dr. Goodlett said.
While he doesn’t necessarily travel with the team to every away game, there is a lot of behind the scenes safety preparations that go on between Dr. Goodlett’s staff and the medical staff of the opposing team. There are no secrets here. The conversation is always about safety, or a “medical time out.” Procedures are discussed to make sure everyone is comfortable with equipment, entrances, exits, use of the medical cart, etc. Then, it’s game time.
The roar of the crowded stadium is nothing compared to the adrenaline pumping through the veins of the players, staff and media on the sidelines. As the players don their helmets and rush the field, it’s game on for the Auburn Tigers, but for Dr. Goodlett those aren’t players on the field. Those aren’t fans in the stands. Those aren’t officials on the sidelines. Those are patients.
“About four years ago, they put a heart rate monitor on me. Before the game, my heart rate was like 140, but when the game started it was like 60. To me, it’s one player, one patient. Everything slows down on the field during the game, and I just have to take care of that patient. When a player goes down, it’s stark silent in the stadium. That’s scary. But, I’m constantly talking. The trainers tell me I’m constantly talking to my sports medicine team and to the patient. It’s all about the patient. You never know what you’re going to find when you get to that player. Sometimes when a player goes down on the other sideline, because of the slope of the field, you don’t have a visual or you didn’t get to see the play, you don’t know exactly what you’re going to find when you get across the field,” Dr. Goodlett said.
In 1996 when fire broke out just outside Jordan-Hare Stadium, Dr. Goodlett’s medical team rendered aid to the fans and firefighters affected by the smoke and flames. Dr. Goodlett said had the wind shifted drawing the flames, smoke and debris into the crowded stadium, disaster would have overtaken the day’s festivities in just a few minutes in what he called “one of the scariest days I’ve ever worked at the stadium.”
In the field of sports medicine, there are as many challenges as rewards. Dr. Goodlett said the most difficult part of his job is to disqualify a player because of an injury. Players want to play and sometimes feel that’s why they are there. But, with the awareness of sports injuries becoming more prevalent, players are coming around to more of an advocacy point of view by policing themselves better for healthier play.
“I always feel bad to a degree if I have to disqualify a player because of an injury or because of health reasons, but ultimately it’s for that player’s health. On the other hand, the most rewarding part of my job is when former players come back and say thanks for taking care of me during those times. That means so much to me!” Dr. Goodlett said.
Dr. Goodlett’s legacy with Auburn University will also be felt in the classroom. He was one of the original individuals approached by Auburn University President Jay Gouge in the early stages of the creation of the Edward Via College of Osteopathic Medicine – Auburn Campus.
“I’m very proud to be one of the three individuals that President Gouge enlisted to assist him in the creation of VCOM at Auburn. It’s incredibly important these medical students are exposed to rural settings and are trained in the State of Alabama, so hopefully some of them will want to stay in rural Alabama. This is an opportunity to keep our young physicians here in Alabama, and I’m very happy to be a part of it,” Dr. Goodlett said.