September 29, 2020
Ortho PA Turns Soccer Passion into Profession
PA Andy Hylton Cares for Patients at the Clinic and On the Field
July 11, 2018
By Dave Andrews
He is a smooth operator who thinks fast, remains composed under intense pressure and has a calming effect on those around him. That’s how most people describe PA Andy Hylton—both at his orthopedic clinic and on the professional soccer field.
A lifetime of playing the game and making connections in the soccer world led Hylton to where he is today. Most days he’s at the clinic helping patients who are dealing with various orthopedic injuries. But often, he’s called upon by the U.S. Soccer Federation to coordinate medical care for international teams playing exhibition matches in the Charlotte, N.C. area, as well as when the U.S. team travels abroad.
“I love orthopedics and practicing medicine, solving problems and making game plans—that’s my primary drive,” Hylton said. “And with how things have worked out thus far, I get to enjoy the balance of being in the clinic and serving the general population, and then stepping out of the clinic and working with professional athletes.”
Charlotte’s Bank of America Stadium is often selected as host for many large soccer events and international tournaments. Recently, Hylton was called upon to coordinate medical care during a match between Mexico and Trinidad & Tobago. And his next assignment will be later this month during an International Champions Cup match between teams from England and Germany.
Before becoming a PA, Hylton says he would have thought only a physician could work in as many unique capacities outside of the clinic. While the U.S. Soccer Federation does rely primarily on physicians to coordinate care and travel with the team, Hylton’s unique background and skillset make him one of the most qualified providers to serve in those roles.
Born and raised in Essex, England, Hylton played soccer throughout his youth and dreamed of the day he would turn his passion into an occupation. He did just that, but the path he took to get there was a little different than he anticipated.
“I’ve always loved sports, but I also had an interest in medicine,” Hylton said. “So I decided that becoming an athletic trainer was a great way to marry those two interests into a career.”
Hylton came to the United States where he played collegiate soccer and graduated from Barry University with a degree in athletic training. He continued his soccer career after graduating by playing for various semi-pro teams. But it was a two-year stint with the Charlotte Eagles—for whom he was both a player and the team’s only athletic trainer—that changed his life.
“It might not have been the ideal scenario, because a typical trainer would take an injured player to the sidelines and have more time to do an evaluation,” Hylton said. “I’d still do a thorough eval, but I had to learn to do it as efficiently as possible on the field in the middle of a match.”
Serving a dual role as player and athletic trainer would be a daunting task, even for the best-trained athletes and health professionals. But for Hylton, it was second nature.
“He was mainly a defender, but he was the epitome of a multi-dimensional player,” said Jacob Coggins, one of Hylton’s former teammates. “Yes, he could play at pretty much any position. But I’ve never been on another team that had a player who was also the team trainer—and he was very talented at doing both.
“He always knew exactly the right types of questions to ask an injured player and he had a unique ability to quickly calm them down,” Coggins said. “You could have a broken leg, and he could make you feel like, ‘Oh, it’s just a broken leg. It’s ok.’”
For two seasons, Hylton juggled duties as player and trainer for the Eagles, all while building strong relationships with his teammates and within the Charlotte community. But perhaps the most significant connection Hylton made during that time was with the team doctor.
The Eagles play in the Premier Development League as a division of the Missionary Athletes International. Salaries are nominal for the players, who typically live with host families. Fortunately, George Collins, PA-C, who was serving as team doctor at the time, offered to be Hylton’s host.
Coming from outside the United States, Hylton was unfamiliar with the PA profession. However, after living with and working alongside Collins, he quickly realized that as a PA he could provide care on a much higher level and still work within the realm of athletics.
“[Andy and I] got to know each other really well, and it was evident to me that he had a deep passion and a true talent for healthcare,” Collins said. “Like all of these guys on the team, Andy was and is a great role model with incredibly strong values. So I told him that if it was what he wanted, I’d do whatever I could to help prepare him for PA school.”
As a 30-year-old, Hylton chose to step away from playing soccer professionally to attend PA school. As luck would have it, when Hylton was about to graduate, Collins was serving as director of the PA department at OrthoCarolina, an orthopedic practice with locations throughout North Carolina. Collins had an open position for a sports medicine provider—and he knew exactly who he was going to call.
“For me, it was the perfect fit because [OrthoCarolina] had a contract with the [Charlotte] Eagles, and I would be their medical liaison,” Hylton said. “I’d be at all the games, both home and away, and I took full ownership of the role. Addressing a wide variety of injuries was all on my shoulders and I really enjoyed that dynamic.”
Hylton served as a resource for the team’s athletic trainer, in much the same way he and Collins worked together years prior. During the week, Hylton would be the one to care for any players who were seriously injured. And on game days, he’d be at the stadium serving as a “pseudo team doc.”
After several years in that role, Hylton’s responsibilities gradually shifted and he recently transitioned most of his duties with the Eagles over to another PA. Hylton admits he misses continually interacting with the Eagles players, but he’s grateful to have found a career that keeps him on the field.
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Dave Andrews is a freelance writer and public relations professional based in Northern Virginia. Contact him at [email protected].