Resident Spotlight: Dr. Kaila Holtz

Happy end of the month, Residents!

For April’s edition of Resident Spotlight, we got in contact with Dr. Kaila Holtz, a Physiatry Resident who, prior to medicine, was on the 2004 Canadian Olympic Softball Team. Read on to find out her experiences on the switch from softball to medicine, the ways she has managed to keep softball a large part of her life during residency, and the experience of being published in the Orthopaedic Journal of Sports Medicine! 

Prior to studying medicine, you were on the 2004 Canadian Olympic Softball team. What inspired you to make the switch? 

I think I’ve always wanted a career in Sports and Exercise Medicine, but wasn’t sure what role I wanted to play on the Sports Medicine team. Near the end of my time on the National Team I saw a “PM&R Spine and Sports Doctor” for sacroiliac joint pain. He spent an hour with me taking a comprehensive history and doing a combined neuro-musculoskeletal exam. We went over my imaging together and the rehab program he prescribed was both individualized and practical. At the time I thought his job was pretty neat.

In medical school I thought my path to Sports Medicine might be via Orthopedic Surgery. Early in my third year I was on an Ortho rotation at Royal Columbian Hospital and the Senior resident asked if I wanted to go to the OR or clinic. “Clinic!” I said repeatedly day after day. Finally, he told me, “You don’t want to be an Orthopedic Surgeon, you should check out Physiatry”. I scratched my head, “What’s Physiatry?”. I hadn’t heard that term before.

So I went home and made the link between the PM&R Spine and Sports Doctor I saw while on the National Team and Physiatry. It turns out Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation (PM&R), Rehab Medicine, and Physiatry all are synonyms! After doing a PM&R rotation in 4th year I knew it was the only specialty for me.

How do medicine and softball come together for you? 

Throughout medical school and residency, I’ve spent roughly 10 hours a week doing various softball related activities: I’m a pitching coach with an elite youth team, I mentor other coaches as a Master Coach Developer for Softball Canada, and I co-wrote a grassroots pitching program (CANpitch) with our National Team coach (Mark Smith) that has over 2500 participants across Canada annually. It keeps me busy but softball gives me a sense of community outside of medicine that I love. I cherish the skills, experiences and friends I’ve made through softball so it’s really important to me I give back to the game. Working with young athletes and coaches energizes me and when I get a positive message from a player or parent, it really makes my day.

Softball and medicine have started to come together for me in a big way now that I’m nearing the end of residency. I’ve given several invited talks on softball injuries, started a line of research in youth softball and created an evidence-based arm care program and warm-up for the pitchers I coach. Because of my specialized knowledge in both softball and medicine, I can interpret medical research and apply it to coaches, athletes and parents communicating in a language they understand.

In University, a professor of mine told me to always make room for my passion outside of medicine. She was an extremely successful and accomplished scientist so it wasn’t from a work-life balance perspective that she gave me this advice. She was a workaholic. It was from a soul-balance perspective. Even if you’re working 60+ hours a week find time for what you love to do because like me you never know when and how the two might come together.

Recently, you were published in the Orthopaedic Journal of Sports Medicine. What drew you to your specific research topic—or even just research in general? 

I love the research process. Asking a question, figuring out a way to test the hypothesis, doing the experiment and then interpreting (and publishing!) the results is so satisfying. When I’m doing softball research I’m like a kid in a candy store because obviously I’m a huge softball nerd. It allows me to combine my research skills and softball knowledge to ask and answer unique questions.

My recent publication was focused on female youth softball pitchers. We did a prospective study using a cohort of local elite youth pitchers and measured their shoulder and elbow pain using a validated questionnaire over a season. As we suspected, the prevalence of shoulder pain was high. Softball has a high rate of early sport specialization, meaning athletes pick a primary sport at the exclusion of others by age 12, and not surprisingly a high prevalence of overuse injuries. I’m hoping to gather data to support the need for pitch counts and arm care programs in softball similar to baseball. I’ve started a couple collaborations I’m really excited about so I can’t wait to see where it goes.

You worked as part of the medical team for the 2016 Women’s World Softball Championships in Surrey, BC. What are your plans for the future?

More and more PM&R is being included on Sports Medicine teams and with our expertise in neurology, pain, musculoskeletal medicine, orthotics and concussion we’re a natural addition. We often see non-operative patients with pain and functional decline that other specialties can’t quite figure out. As an athlete I really appreciated PM&R’s 360-degree approach to patients and creative problem solving. My goal would be to work in a University setting and combine my three interests: sports medicine (with a focus in overhand athletes), teaching/coaching and research into a career. I also plan to stay involved in softball and hope to contribute to changing policy through my research and writing. Right now I’m on maternity leave (my son Felix is almost 7 months) returning in August for my PGY-5 year in PM&R and a fellowship at the UBC Allan McGavin Sport and Exercise Medicine Clinic. I’m really excited to spend next year refining my skills and exploring options for the future.

Thank you to Dr. Holtz for speaking with us! We look forward to seeing you all once more on next month’s Resident Spotlight.

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author: Sasha Zalyvadna

2020 Awards of Excellence Recipients

[…] Dr. Holtz has also been featured in our Resident Spotlight during her time as a resident. If you would like to find out more about Dr. Holtz, please visit our interview. […]

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