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‘She’s a great member of our team’: Doctor for Zags basketball teams makes an impact on and off the court

Dr. Molly Gilbert, the team doctor for Gonzaga’s men’s and women’s basketball teams, is photographed in the training room during halftime of the Zags vs. San Diego game on Feb. 27, in the McCarthey Athletic Center. (Colin Mulvany / The Spokesman-Review)
Dr. Molly Gilbert, the team doctor for Gonzaga’s men’s and women’s basketball teams, is photographed in the training room during halftime of the Zags vs. San Diego game on Feb. 27, in the McCarthey Athletic Center. (Colin Mulvany / The Spokesman-Review)

LAS VEGAS – Gonzaga basketball always keeps Dr. Molly Gilbert on the edge of her seat.

It’s a good one, too, just 11 rows behind the GU bench, where Gilbert has sat for more than two decades and cheered on the GU men.

That seat is nearby for a good reason.

As a fan, she has their back. As Gonzaga’s lead team physician, Gilbert also is responsible for the other body parts.

And not just for men’s basketball.

When GU women’s star Jill Townsend went down with a severe leg injury at last year’s West Coast Conference Tournament, it was Gilbert who hustled onto the court at the Orleans Arena.

“You have that sense of dread going down to the floor,” said Gilbert, who’s been at GU athletes’ side for 21 years.

“You just try to share with them that ‘this is going to be better,’ ” Gilbert said.

So began Townsend’s road to recovery, a journey that will come full circle on Monday in the WCC semifinals.

Gilbert will be there, too.

“To have the season she’s had this year, is just wonderful,” Gilbert said of Townsend.

By all accounts, so is Gonzaga’s partnership with Gilbert, who works with a team of other medical experts in caring for GU’s 350 student-athletes.

This includes everything from safety and concussion protocols, physicals and more for every GU team. Starting here on Sunday, Gilbert will provide medical support for the men’s and women’s teams.

“She’s been great, and she cares about our players,” GU women’s coach Lisa Fortier said. “She’s a great member of our team, and somehow she doesn’t get enough credit on a daily basis.”

Certainly the demands come on a daily basis.

“It’s different every day and every season, and with GU I have to be available 24-7-365,” Gilbert said.

“If an athlete needs help, I might be the first person the trainers will text or call,” said Gilbert, who must decide whether an injury is orthopedic in nature or requires primary care.

Gilbert also is the face of a remarkable partnership forged in 2017 between Gonzaga and the University of Washington School of Medicine to improve the health of citizens in Eastern Washington.

Their first move was to establish the UW School of Medicine on GU’s campus to serve as one of five medical school sites throughout Washington, Wyoming, Alaska, Montana and Idaho.

Gilbert is a faculty member at the medical school’s Spokane facility, where she teaches some of the school’s 120 first- and second-year students. She also directs a residency program where she works closely with residents who will be the next generation of physicians.

“We all know her extremely well,” GU athletic director Mike Roth said. “Her being in general practice helps so much with our athletes.”

“This partnership has been great for UW, GU, and most important, it’s been great for the Spokane area,” Roth said.

Gilbert is also a practicing family medicine physician at Providence, where she delivers babies.

“She knows how to balance being a mom and a doctor,” Fortier said.

The mom part began more than 20 years ago.

Gilbert grew up in Minnesota, studied physical therapy and psychology, then attended medical school at UW. Her husband, Brian, is a professor at the Community Colleges of Spokane and they have two sons – one of them, Connor, attends GU.

They moved to Spokane for Molly’s residency in 1996, which she finished in 1999, and have lived here since.

Gilbert didn’t exactly seek out the opportunity at GU. Her predecessor, the retired Dr. Arnie Peterson, told her, “We’re going to see some athletes – I think you’ll really like it.”

It’s been even better than that.

A lifelong Husky fan – “I’m so glad GU doesn’t have a football team,” Gilbert said – she has embraced the Zags in every way.

“Connecting with the student-athletes has been very rewarding,” Gilbert said. “It’s like a family – the coaches, the assistant trainers. It really does feel like that.”

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