There are skills to be learned, challenges to be overcome and great fun to be had for doctors working with sporting organisations. And some great sport to watch as an added bonus.
If you can’t find specialist anaesthetist Dr Brent May in the operating theatre, it’s more than likely you’ll find him trackside at some of Australia’s key motorsport events.
Dr May is president and part of the executive of Team Medical Australia, which is a not-for-profit association that provides medical services to motorsport competitors, support crew and officials. He is also chief medical officer for the Australian Motorcycle Grand Prix and World Superbikes, organising and managing a team of over 100 people for the event.
Motivated by an interest in trauma medicine and a love of motor racing, Dr May began as a volunteer when he was a resident medical officer.
“I became hooked as soon as I started attending a number of big race incidents”, he explains.
His role has since grown to include management, coordination, mentoring and education. The social aspects, pre-hospital care work, high-pressured environment and the opportunity to work as a tight-knit team are other drawcards for many doctors.
Risks to competitors under race conditions can include high-speed collisions, the potential for car rollovers, pit lane fires as well as high-velocity impacts with speed traps and barriers, Dr May explains.
“Motorsport is a fairly unique experience in medicine. It has been often compared to warfare where you see trauma happen right in front of you and the response time is measured in seconds, not minutes”, he says.
“While many of us are part of a team during our regular work, the cohesive, interdependent team in motorsports medicine is very different. With groups of three to four people within a total team of 15–20 people, we work together with little other support. You come to rely on your colleagues in a different way to being in a hospital or clinic.
The drive to do more
Motor racing is just one of many sports where Australian doctors volunteer their time or take up paid roles. From community sporting events, such as rowing and fun runs, to organised professional competitions like triathlons, rugby league matches and even the Olympic Games, doctors of all levels and specialties are providing care, support, expertise and advice.
Sydney-based sport and exercise physician Dr Diana Robinson has enjoyed the benefits that come with stretching her reach into new and exciting areas. Throughout her career she has worked with all kinds of professional athletes in a range of key roles, including Australian team doctor for the Manchester 2002 Commonwealth Games; medical director of Triathlon Australia; medical director for the men’s and women’s triathlon at the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games; and part of the International Triathlon Union Doping Commission.
Today, her busy roles as mother and doctor have kept her behind the desk but she still finds time to work as honorary doctor for the Leichhardt Rowing Club and as medical director for TV dance show So You Think You Can Dance, since the series’ launch five years ago.
With competitors dancing 10–12 hours per day, seven days a week, plus two live shows, the role was busy and demanding.
“When a dancer needed to be seen, they had to be seen quickly and have investigations ordered and performed immediately”, Dr Robinson says. That’s where it was crucial to have good relationships with radiologists and other allied health and medical practitioners, she adds.
Dr Robinson would perform an “entry medical” and “exit medical” on dance competitors along with care for the day-to-day injuries and illnesses.
“There have been a number of stress fractures, ankle injuries, dislocated joints, back injuries and ruptured muscles throughout the series. Most dancers are carrying at least one injury through the show’s season.”
For Dr May, volunteer work has helped to keep his skills sharp and his career satisfaction high.
“Using my skills outside the operating room definitely enhances my career satisfaction. Working with incredible volunteers and learning to work effectively in a large team environment brings satisfaction both by attending events and learning skills that I can use back at ‘work’, such as team building, education and trauma knowledge”, he says.
When he’s not surrounded by the smell of burning rubber, Dr May’s regular job involves anaesthetist work as a visiting medical officer at the Alfred Hospital, Melbourne, and in some private institutions. He also works as a retrieval physician with Adult Retrieval Victoria and is an instructor for the Early Management of Severe Trauma Course with the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons.
Dr Robinson agrees that there is much to gain from providing medical coverage at sporting events, including the opportunity for activities outside regular consultations and beyond the usual doctor–patient interaction.
“In terms of the volunteer work with athletes, it is both challenging and fun to be the doctor for a sporting event. Competitors are always greatly appreciative and you can make some good friendships”, she says. Plus, she adds, “the experience of being outside, working in sunshine, rain or snow, is always better than being in an office!”
You also get the best seat in the house at major sporting events and the experience can add value to your CV, she says.so
Along with more serious roles in professional sport comes serious responsibility. Recent controversy over the use of banned substances in sport has put the spotlight on doctors and sports scientists. Sports Medicine Australia CEO Mr Nello Marino said the organisation encouraged all sports medicine professionals to be vigilant in their observation and reporting of suspect behaviour and practices by players, officials and other personnel, including sport science and medical personnel.
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