Internist and Team Physician Marches to His Own Drum

It's strange to think that a debilitating injury – a leg injury from a skiing accident – could play a prominent role in shaping an individual's career. But for Larry Drum, MD, a board certified internist in Los Alamitos, CA, that's exactly what happened.

It’s strange to think that a debilitating injury — a leg injury from a skiing accident – could play a prominent role in shaping an individual’s career. But for Larry Drum, MD, a board certified internist in Los Alamitos, CA, that’s exactly what happened.

“[The skiing accident] kept me on course when I got discouraged about what I wanted to do when I was an undergraduate at USC (the University of Southern California),” Drum recalls. “It kept me going back to how I really appreciated the doctors who took care of me. And I thought what a great field this was.”

Since then, Drum has not only embraced his field, he has given back in spades. He has been the medical director for Long Beach State University since 1987 and joined the medical staff of USA Water Polo in 1998, serving on the team’s medical staff at the 2000 Summer Olympics in Sydney. He was credentialed by the US Olympic Committee in 2003, which qualified him to work with athletes at the Pan-American Games in 2003 and 2005 and the Summer Olympics in 2004 and 2008.

And it started off quite unexpectedly.

Opportunity knocks

Following his medical residency, Drum joined a large medical group in Long Beach believing he was going to replace an older physician who planned to retire. When the physician changed his mind, Drum had to build his practice within the medical group from the ground up. That’s when Long Beach State University came calling.

“The California state university system was going through some investiture problems, and [LBSU] had to get rid of all seven doctors in their student medical center,” Drum explains. “That meant the athletic doctors lost their positions.”

At the time, Drum was providing physical therapy for his patients. When officials at the university inquired about quality primary care physicians who were familiar with physical therapy, his name came up.

“It came out of the blue,” Drum says. “They offered me a pretty small income to help get their teams active and healthy, and to coordinate care with orthopedists and neurologists. I was born and raised in this community, and I’ve always loved that university. It was a great opportunity for me to give something back.”

Drum has 3 sons—Travis, Ryan (pictured at right), and Matthew. That’s rewarding for any parent. But rewards don’t come without their share of challenges. Early on, Drum and his wife learned that their son Ryan had autism. It was then that a wise colleague in Drum’s medical group offered some sage advice.

“He told me that he had one child in jail, another headed toward jail, and a third in rehab,” Drum recalls. “He told me that if he would have known what was going to happen to his children when they were 2 years old, he would have embraced that information. He said, ‘It’s going to be a struggle, but you will know exactly what your child is going to need. You’ll be surrounded by professionals; people who are going to help you. You son will be just fine.’”

The words proved prophetic. Today Ryan is an independent young man. He graduated from Cypress College, enjoys competing in dragon boat racing, and works in his father’s front office doing billing, answering phones, and greeting patients.

“He’s very social, and he makes people laugh,” Drum says. “I’m very proud of him. That’s part of my rewards.”

Knowing his patients

Whether he’s seeing patients in his internal medicine group, Memorial Sports and Internal Medicine, or treating high-octane athletes, Drum knows his role, and he knows his patients—especially the latter.

“My job is to protect the athletes from themselves, and to protect them from others, whether it be coaches, family, or sponsors,” Drum says. “My job is to make sure I protect the health of the athlete. That’s always my main concern.”

As competition levels increase and the Olympics approach, athletes may not only be dealing with chronic injuries, but also anxieties and fatigue. Some begin to question themselves. That’s when Drum becomes more of a psychologist.

“I become a father figure,” he laughs. “I know their personalities, and I know their goals. I become a different person who they can anchor to, and who can guide them through.”

Drum’s approach doesn’t change much when treating patients at his practice. The first question he asks of patients who have set their sights on a particular goal is, why? What do they want to achieve? Sometimes the goals are realistic, but sometimes the path the patient has chosen to achieve a goal can be injury provoking.

“If someone who’s running 10-Ks wants to run a marathon or an ironman, and they want to be ready in 3 months, they’re going to injure themselves,” he says. “I find out their goals and help them design a plan to meet their expectations without getting injured, without losing sleep, and without losing their family.”

Healthy philosophy

As Drum has aged, he has teamed with a younger physician who does most of the traveling with the athletic squads. That has afforded him time to look back on the work he has done—work he used to regard as pretty normal. In retrospect, he realizes he was part of “some pretty amazing stuff.

“I’ve had an opportunity to hang around some really good coaches,” he says. “I’ve seen teams that were maybe not treated fairly by a referee and went from a gold medal to a silver medal. The athletes were really disappointed. And I remember some of the better coaches telling them, ‘You’re an Olympian. Enjoy your time here in the village, and the journey while you are here. You’ve got the rest of your life to figure out what happened out there. Don’t let it ruin the next 3 weeks.’ And I sit back and let that be a principle in my own life.”

And it’s a principle Drum has acted upon. Patients he has known for years suddenly lose their medical insurance, so he treats them for free. Or when a child incurred a laceration during a water polo game and the family didn’t have medical insurance, he took the time to stitch them up. When he meets them later in life, they say they never got a chance to thank him for what he did, and they voice their gratitude.

In that respect, Drum’s career has come full circle.

“It’s kind of like the doctor who took care of me when I broke my leg,” he recalls. “I wish I could tell him ‘Thank you,’ but I don’t even know who he is. But what he did for me, he passed on a huge torch that I’ve been able to pass on to others. That’s really rewarding to me.”