From rural GP to head of the Olympic medical team
When Australia’s Olympic athletes head to London next month, they will be accompanied by an entourage of doctors, nurses, psychologists, masseurs and physiotherapists.
At the medical helm will be Dr Peter Baquie, a sports physician usually based at Olympic Park Sports Medicine Centre in Melbourne.
Dr Baquie describes his role as medical director for the Australian Olympic Team as the link between the Team medical staff and the Team Executive. He is also supported by a Medical Commission of five doctors, plus other allied health practitioners, who advise the whole Team on medical matters.
Team medical care is provided by sport-nominated and sport-specific medical personnel, while Dr Baquie is part of the medical headquarters group that provides care to smaller sports that do not have their own doctors, plus to support staff such as administrators, officials and media.
London will be Dr Baquie’s second Olympics as medical director, and he says it poses fewer health and security challenges compared with Beijing 4 years ago.
“For Beijing, there were concerns about water safety, food safety and air quality. Despite the uncertainty, we were able to prepare the team sufficiently”, says Dr Baquie, adding that he was pleased there were few problems relating to the conditions in China, such as major asthma or gastrointestinal cases.
In the lead-up to London, athletes will be advised on strict infection control to prevent the spread of bugs, plus most athletes have already been screened for any cardiovascular abnormalities.
In London, as in Beijing, Dr Baquie and most other medical staff will stay in the athletes’ village, with other doctors and athletes from around the world.
“It’s pretty exciting, it’s a real buzz. It’s an amazing, multinational experience”, he says.
Dr Baquie did not begin his medical career in sports medicine, although he had always played a lot of football and cricket.
He was a rural general practitioner in Foster, in Victoria’s Gippsland region for 11 years, a job he really enjoyed. He moved back to Melbourne when his kids reached high school, and began working as a suburban GP.
“Being a GP in Melbourne was very different. I was a bit underwhelmed”, he says.
An old friend from medical school, Dr Peter Brukner, had established the Olympic Park centre, and suggested Dr Baquie try sports medicine.
“I took the plunge and re-skilled, went through the training program when I was 40. Trying to do physiology and anatomy again was a nightmare!”
However, he loved his new specialty, and soon began combining clinical consultations with sporting team work, initially as doctor for a junior basketball team.
He later worked with the Carlton Australian Football League (AFL) club for 3 years, and then spent 7 years as doctor for the Australian men’s hockey team, culminating in their gold-medal performance at the Athens Olympics in 2004.
After Athens, he decided to return to football, and has spent the past 8 years as team physician with the Hawthorn AFL club.
He successfully applied for the Olympic medical director role in 2006 and now manages his working life between his Melbourne practice, Hawthorn team physician role and Olympic responsibilities.
Dr Baquie says he loves the “diagnostic challenge” of sports medicine, regardless of whether he is looking after an amateur or Olympic athlete.
He also enjoys the responsibility of making the judgement call about whether an athlete should keep playing.
“When is a guy safe enough to return to the field? What happens if you push physiology a little? I enjoy living on the edge a bit”, he says.
He enjoys the multidisciplinary approach, where he works with allied health professionals including psychologists and physiotherapists, as well as non-health staff such as coaches.
Dr Baquie also loves the “peripheral” aspects of sports medicine; the camaraderie of working with a sporting team and the excitement of the Olympic Village.
“I’ve been incredibly lucky, going from being a small-time country GP, to now travelling the world with sports teams … it’s been a very fortunate and special journey”, he says.