Team Cureus spoke with Austin Nakatsuka, about his poster research on redesigning football helmets, his spearfishing adventures and passion for helping underserved communities both at home and abroad.

Austin is second year med student at the University of Hawaii-John A. Burns School of Medicine and volunteers at a rehab clinic working alongside his father for the past year at the Salvation Army Ola Kino Clinic in Honolulu.

Mannequin gets helmet on helmet action in Austin’s experiment.

One of the posters that caught the attention of Cureus members was Austin Naktsuka’s Redesigning Football Helmets To Reduce Concussion Risk. Not only is football the most popular sport in America, concussions have become a hot button issue for the NFL. The union and the league are both trying to find ways to change the culture of concussions from the grass roots up.

“It’s a really big issue going around the NFL right now,” Austin told us. “Especially because you find out more information on concussions, preventing concussion risks, and then we were wondering if it’s modifications to the helmet or modifications to the rules that needs to happen.”

His conclusion is that adding a soft exterior layer of foam onto helmets can actually reduce the potential of concussion injuries on the football field. While we’re sure that the NFL is not going to return to leather helmets of old, as Austin would suggest, it will be interesting to follow how and if the league will make significant changes to their helmet design.

Even though he called himself more of “an NBA guy” than a football fan, it was interesting to learn that Austin is very passionate about spearfishing. It’s one of the things that kept him sane through the rigorous program at the John A. Burns School of Medicine, University of Hawaii.

While he tries to get out two or three times a week, his favorite time to go spearfishing is Friday afternoons after his anatomy lab because “It gets the smell of formaldehyde off.”

My friends and I in med school would go on Fridays after anatomy lab around  4pm or so and we’d go for maybe two to three hours,” said Austin. “The nice thing is it’s a sort of an escape or release because you’re finding fish and focusing on the environment.”

We asked Austin what else he’s passionate about. He told us that “serving underserved” communities is a big part of what he does as a student with his father who set up a program for the Salvation Army which serves as a drug rehab center for the homeless as well as recently released prisoners. In fact, serving the underserved was one of the reasons he went into medical school.

Austin washes the formaldehyde off with a vigorous spearfishing session.

“I realized that medicine was a really great avenue mainly because you kind of have this unlimited potential to help people. I wanted to have as many skills and abilities as I could to serve people around the world,” Austin told Cureus.

“But I do want to be more established in my community and serve Hawaii, especially because we currently have a shortage of doctors in Hawaii and it’s growing and especially because I’m highly connected here and I know the people — you know I grew up here.”

Austin admitted that volunteering at the clinic has been a great way to stay connected with the community and do what he’s most passionate about — helping people.

“It’s a good teaching ground for me on how to practice medicine. I see the patients, perform medical exams, present it to my Dad, write up a history and things like that.”

Team Cureus asked Austin what he would want friends and colleagues to know about the John A. Burns School of Medicine.

“We’re given a lot of clinical experiences. We do a type of learning called, “Problem Based Learning,” Austin said. “We base our learning around specific cases about patients that they have and so we can associate our learning to those cases. Our school does a really great job with that.

“They also do a really great job of facilitating team work within, between classmates — kind of dampening down the competitive atmosphere and focusing more on an integrated togetherness sort of feel that I really like”. Austin added.

“We’re moving toward the trend of doctors joining up in groups and having to partner together and we’re kind of gearing more away from that single doctor kind of thing.”

Austin Nakatsuka is one of the 10,000+ members of our online Cureus medical publishing community. Check out his profile and the poster on football helmets he authored for our Fall 2012 Poster Competition.