OUR Clemson; Student Affairs

Up to the challenge: Shari Tonks enhances primary care, sports medicine at Redfern Health Center


There’s not much Dr. Shari Tonks hasn’t seen in a career that’s spanned 30 years in medicine.

A quick look to her impressive résumé reveals 15 years in private primary care practice (1995-2010), 10 years as a physician for the University of Toledo Athletics (1994-2004) and nine years with the U.S. Figure Skating Association (1997-2006). It also reflects a six-year period as a doping control officer for the U.S. Olympic Committee and U.S. Anti-Doping Agency.

“Dr. Tonks is exceedingly qualified and does a mixture of primary care and sports medicine for Student Health Services,” said Dr. Lesslie Pekarek, director of medical services at Redfern Health Center.

Tonks is Redfern’s only board-certified physician in sports medicine. Though she didn’t join the Student Health Services staff until 2013, her connection to Clemson University runs deep. Kristy, her younger sister, was a three-year starter for the Tiger volleyball team from 1990-92.

She fully admits when Kristy was a Clemson student, there was a certain mystique surrounding Redfern Health Center. However, Tonks said any preconceptions she may have had about the quality of care provided at Redfern have been debunked — and then some — in her now eight years as part of the medical provider team.

“When I came here, I didn’t know how good the medicine was going to be,” she admitted. “But I got here and realized these people are GOOD. I’ve been so impressed with the skill of our team. I’ve worked with some of the best in the world and have been really impressed with the level of care we provide at Redfern.”

Tonks has certainly added to the high level of care students have come to expect. At the University of Toledo, she was team doctor for the football and women’s basketball squads. She took advantage of a mutual connection with some of the individuals in charge of the Figure Skating Association and soon found herself traveling the globe — including to China, France, Germany and Japan — as a physician with Team USA. She also helped conduct drug testing of athletes at the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta.

Those experiences have proven to be impactful in the specialized services she provides to Clemson students. She estimates 30 percent of a family medical provider’s role entails diagnosing and treating musculoskeletal issues — which plays right into her expertise.

“When dealing with a young population, there’s an enormous amount of orthopedic issues,” she said. “One thing I love about this place is with today’s generation, they’re interested in overall health in a way we’ve never seen before.”

Redfern staff have had to continually shift because of the challenges presented by COVID-19. Tonks was significantly involved in amending the facility’s workflow in 2020 — which included seeing students outside under tents in the summer heat, as well as the introduction of telemedicine — during modified operations.

Tonks said the medical doctors at Redfern have nearly 300 years of combined experience. She believes the group’s complementary and overlapping strengths have equipped them to properly tackle every challenge in front of them, particularly these past 20 months.

“Anything and everything comes through these doors,” Tonks said. “It’s tremendously challenging. But we have the experience and knowledge within our subspecialties to handle these challenges.”

Of course, it doesn’t hurt to have someone with 30 years of first-hand experience on board, either.