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Shouldering Success

Jonathan Sum portrait

The Division’s Jonathan Sum named a Fellow of the American Society of Shoulder and Elbow Therapists. 



In October, Sum was named a Fellow of the American Society of Shoulder and Elbow Therapists (ASSET). Only 12 individuals hold the esteemed honor, which recognizes Sum’s work to optimize clinical care and outcomes-oriented research in shoulder rehabilitation.

“It’s the deepest honor to be named an ASSET Fellow and join some of the top researchers and clinicians in the country,” says Sum, who joined USC’s faculty ranks in 2006.

Sum’s lofty professional success is tied to an unrelenting, decades-old personal mission. 

A prep baseball star from a small private school in Southern California, Sum captured the attention of some of the nation’s premier collegiate baseball programs, including USC, until a freak junior-season knee injury stunted his progress. Sum’s primary care doctor labeled the injury a likely knee sprain. A physical therapist simply suggested ice. 

“Knowing what I know now, I’m pretty sure it was a full or partial ACL tear with a full or partial MCL tear as well,” Sum says.

The “less than optimal care” Sum received derailed his once-promising baseball career but also ignited a new purpose.

“I lost an opportunity because I didn’t receive proper care and treatment, and I vowed to help others avoid a similar fate,” Sum says.

Planning to study business administration in college, Sum shifted his major to kinesiology upon enrolling at USC. While working as an aide in USC’s physical therapy clinic as an undergraduate, Sum discovered his true calling.

“As a physical therapist, you’re meeting people at their lowest time, and I found being a part of their journey back to health incredibly powerful and something that pulled on my heartstrings,” Sum says. 


“Doing Everything I Love and Nothing I Don’t”


Given his baseball background and desire to work with athletes, Sum was naturally drawn to upper extremities and, specifically, the shoulder — “A mystical, unforgiving body region,” he calls it. 

“Fear and respect for the shoulder drew me in,” he says. “It felt like something I could never master.” 

Rather than being intimidated by the challenge, however, Sum embraced it and has devoted his professional life to understanding the shoulder and helping others do the same as a clinician, researcher and educator. 

Sum has helped individuals from all walks of life return to activities they love — baseball, tennis and volleyball, among them — by creating thoughtful, evidence-fueled treat-ment plans and produced extensive research exploring physical factors related to performance and injury prevention in throwing athletes.

Yet, Sum devotes the bulk of his time today to instructing and mentoring future physical therapists about upper extremity injuries and best patient care, which includes serving as director of USC’s Upper Extremity Athlete Fellowship program. The one-year subspecialty fellowship includes six months with Sum at USC followed by a six-month run with Major League Baseball’s San Diego Padres.

“Teaching, training, taking care of patients and doing research for that same group of people,” Sum says, “I’m doing everything I love and nothing that I don’t.”