The puzzle-solving nature of conducting research has always appealed to Phillip Gribble.
“I like coming up with an idea and seeing if we can figure it out,” said Gribble, PhD, ATC, FNATA, chair of the UK College of Health Sciences Department of Athletic Training and Clinical Nutrition. “It’s just a thrill when you’ve worked on coming up with a really great idea. Then you get the data, then the numbers on the screen pop up and tell you what you thought is actually true.”
In the fall of 2014, Gribble came to the UK College of Health Sciences, teaching graduate level classes and conducting research at the Biomotion Lab and then at the Sports Medicine Research Institute. He also served as co-director of the International Ankle Consortium (IAC) from 2013 to 2019.
Growing up in North Carolina, he played a variety of sports, and like many kids, dealt with a few injuries. Through this connection, he learned about athletic training as a career, and pursued that path with a bachelor’s and master’s degree at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
“I just thought it was a cool profession because you got to do different things on different days,” Gribble said. “Some days you're out at practice. Some days you're doing a lot of treatment and management inside with the athletes. Some days you're on the road traveling with your team.”
Throughout his 17-year-long career, he has produced 125 published and/or in-press peer-reviewed manuscripts in scientific journals, and has presented more than 250 abstracts at international, national and regional scientific meetings. The impact research may have on future patients is always at the forefront of his mind.
“There are still so many questions we don’t have answers to,” Gribble said. “When I come up with a project, I always ask, will the outcome help someone do something better with one of their patients?’
Gribble hopes his body of work will have direct implications for clinical practice across other allied health fields. “As an investigator, you want your research to impact your own profession and interact in an interdisciplinary way, translating across other medical fields and populations as a whole,” he said.
Recently, Gribble began work on a significant clinical trial focused on treatment for ankle sprains known as the Sensory Motor Ankle Rehab Trial (SMART). Funded by the Department of Defense, The SMART study’s purpose is to compare the SMART protocol for ankle sprains against a standard of care (SOC) protocol to determine if it is more successful at producing successful one-year outcomes and lower rates of reinjury.
Gribble’s role as a mentor is just as important as his work as a scientist. As part of his team, Kyle Kosik, a post-doc research fellow in Gribble’s lab, has published research that may provide insights into the ongoing opioid crisis in America.
“Kyle’s paper looked at emergency room admissions and saw that a third of people diagnosed with ankle sprains were prescribed opioids,” Gribble said. “I’ve had wonderful students and scholars work with me and feel confident they will keep the momentum of our research thriving and moving forward.”
Gribble’s work has garnered the attention of many in his field – this year he received the 2020 National Athletic Training Association Research Foundation's Medal for Distinguished Athletic Training Research, a recognition of his prolific contribution to research in the field of athletic training and health care.
The Medal for Distinguished Athletic Training Research is presented annually to deserving researchers among the NATA membership. Gribble has looked up to and worked with some of the past medal winners throughout his academic and professional career.
“So many of the award winners I’ve looked up to throughout the years,” he said. "I have such respect for them. I feel extremely humbled that they think I’ve already had a good career.”
“This award is the highest honor a researcher can receive in athletic training,” said UK College of Health Sciences Dean Scott Lephart. “It is the result of significant contributions Dr. Gribble has made to advance the clinical practice of his discipline through science and discovery. I am very pleased his work has been recognized by his colleagues and the College of Health Sciences offers our sincere congratulations and thanks for his excellence.”
For Gribble, working in an environment that fosters collaboration has been key to his success so far in his career.
“I really attribute the resources, the people, the connections at UK to my success. That’s really helped me elevate my research,” he said. “I feel like I'd been successful for a decade plus before coming to UK, but coming here, it was like the switch just flipped. I’m honored to receive The NATA award because it tells me that people think I'm doing something right.”