Member Spotlight: Faculty Council Co-Lead Philip Veliz

June 29, 2024


By Kim Douglas

Dr. Philip Veliz is an associate research professor at the University of Michigan School of Nursing’s Applied Biostatistics laboratory. He graduated with a degree in sociology at Cleveland State University and later earned a PhD in sociology at the University at Buffalo SUNY. Having participated in multiple sports and experienced head injuries himself from a young age, Dr. Veliz is passionate about understanding the benefits of sports participation during childhood and adolescence, the prevalence of head injuries, and their long-term consequences. Currently, he sits on the faculty council with the Concussion Center and co-leads the “Michigan Alumni Neurological Health Study” with Dr. JT Eckner. In a recent interview, Dr. Veliz shared his aspirations for his research, advice for students, and the inspiration that drives him.

Dr. Veliz’s first research paper that focused on concussions, a 600-word letter, remains his favorite. Intrigued by questions surrounding youth head injuries, he initially struggled to find secondary data that addressed the lifetime prevalence of concussion among adolescents in the United States. Discovering a gap in the data, he took action by helping advocate for a question to the Monitoring the Future (MTF) survey, an annual, in-school survey of US students in grades 8, 10, and 12. This enabled him to create an article looking at the lifetime prevalence of concussions among children in the United States. During this process, Dr. Veliz collaborated with multiple people and along the way met Dr. JT Eckner, the Associate Director of our center’s research core. He noted, “Even though it’s a 600-word research letter, it’s a combination of having to meet people that study this and figure out how to get that question on the survey. That’s why I like that article so much; there is a lot of background in putting that together.”

The U-M Alumni Neurological Health Study, co-led by Dr. Veliz and Dr. Eckner, aims to learn more about long-term neurological health in formal male and female athletes. Supported by U-M’s alumni community, the pilot study phase saw more than 1,000 survey responses from former athletes and general students. This is the first population-based study to investigate key neurological outcomes in former athletes across all sports. Dr. Veliz noted that current information on the long-term health effects of these injuries is limited. He is concerned about the general population, including himself, and what these risks could mean for others. ​​Dr. Veliz seeks to determine if something can be done to minimize the risk of problematic issues later in life, stating, “Most head injuries are mild, and sometimes there are no long-term effects and I want to see if that is really true.”  The study team is exploring opportunities to support the next phase of this study, where more subjects will be included with additional research procedures such as neuroimaging (e.g., MRI) and biomarkers to help better understand the relationship between concussion and long-term neurological outcomes. 

As a faculty member with the Concussion Center, Dr. Veliz is excited about the opportunity to work with researchers from multiple disciplines. He stated, “I’m working with neuroscientists, MDs, psychologists, who study this and they give their perspective, which I wouldn’t think about.” Being able to exchange ideas and contribute his clinical knowledge creates an environment for a better understanding of injuries. He emphasized that his favorite part of his job is interacting with people who have a common interest in what he is researching. Dr. Veliz mentioned, “Not only do we do research, but we can share personal stories and connect.” He noted that the members and faculty of the Concussion Center are driven by a shared curiosity and passion for learning more about head injuries. He deeply values the personal connections and shared interests within the Concussion Center. 

Looking to the future and the now, he plans to continue studying the epidemiology of concussion and diving deeper into the secondary data. He aims to refine the questions used to measure concussion history by integrating various datasets that address these questions. Dr. Veliz left some final words for students pursuing a career in concussion research: “While something might be a hot topic, study something that you are incredibly passionate about. Study what you like; that’s the only way you are going to enjoy it. You have to find some kind of passion, and that will push you in the right direction.”

As Dr. Veliz continues to uncover critical insights into concussion and athlete health, his dedication and collaborative spirit inspire those around him. His journey exemplifies the impact of combining passion with research, and he remains committed to making a lasting difference in the field of concussion studies.

Learn more about the Michigan Alumni Neurological Health Study:
“Brain health, concussions and sports: is there a long-term connection?”
Research update at the 6th NCAA-DoD Grand Alliance Concussion Conference