Do you have what it takes to be an Olympian? That is: an Olympian doctor? Its not such a blithe question. Doctors who apply to be physicians at the Olympics go through their own grueling process in order to make it there.
So whats the process, demands, and experience of being a doctor at the Olympics?
The Process for Applying
To work as a doctor for the US Olympic Committee (USOC), they must first possess an unrestricted medical license: itself a formidable first hurdle. Most physicians who qualify also have a solid sports medicine background, and have had exposure in treating professional athletes in a specific sport already.
If all this lines up, health care professionals then contact their sport-specific national governing body for a “tryout” to join the Olympic medical team. After recommended, they then need to apply to the USOC.
The USOC invites applicants to one of its 2-week evaluation period. Medical skills are assessed, as well as the doctors ability to work under pressure and in how they communicate with star athletes.
Next, an internship at a domestic national competition is held for the doctor if having passed the tryout. With most jobs, you usually work your way up to the Big Show through world championships, the Pan Am games, and so on. At this point, a doctor finally becomes a prime candidate to represent their discipline, and country, in the worlds biggest sporting event.
Perhaps the biggest sacrifice for doctors is leaving their practice for several weeks. Instead of being paid their normal salary, they accept a relatively nominal sum. The shifts working the Olympics are also long and taxing. Extensive homework and research are also required; the doctor must know an athlete’s complete medical history.
Any kind of person of a certain stardom requires some…communication work, shall we say? In other words, working with elite athletes can be challenging. Working with just one athlete is a handful, but Olympic physicians may be assigned possibly dozens of athletes, while being on call 24/7.
Another big challenge is to be well-versed in banned substances and drug testing. There are certain Over-The-Counter drugs, for example, that contain banned substances, and the physician must be knowledgeable and carefully monitor each athletes medicinal intake, no matter how benign it may seem.
Medical staff members must also be ready to respond to emergencies at a moment’s notice. For common injuries, and also more serious injuries, such as a head or spinal injury (Remember Greg Louganiss nasty head injury performing a platform dive in the 1988 Olympics? I shudder every time I watch that event!).
So, after all this work and sacrifice, is it worth it? Is it worth being a doctor at the Olympics? Well, most physicians, when asked, almost all say its an experience they wouldnt trade for the, well…entire world.
- Doctors Must Qualify to Make the Olympic Medical Team. February 3, 2014. Accessed August 10, 2016. http://www.medicalbag.com/grey-matter/doctors-must-qualify-to-make-the-olympic-medical-team/article/472396/.
- Serbe, Andy. Olympic Moments: USOCs Dr. Mark Hutchinson on the Path, Meaning, and Challenges of Olympic Medicine. Olympic Moments. August 3, 2016. https://doubledrivelblog.com/2016/08/03/olympic-moments-usocs-dr-mark-hutchinson-on-the-path-meaning-and-challenges-of-olympic-medicine/.
- Budgett MD, Richard. Rowing for Gold: What It Takes to Be an Olympic Doctor. News. n.p.: GE Healthcare The Pulse, 2016. http://newsroom.gehealthcare.com/rowing-for-gold-what-it-takes-to-be-an-olympic-doctor/.
For Further Reading
- Cavanaugh J. 2012 Olympics: London perspectives. Hospital for Special Surgery website. August 6, 2012. http://hss.edu/onthemove/2012-olympics-london-perspectives/#.UtfuGvRDtHU.
- Dr. David Pascal: Olympic doctor helps bring home the gold. Natural Vitality website.
Fiore K. Olympic doctors ready to treat Team U.S.A. MedPage Today website. July 24, 2012. http://www.medpagetoday.com/Orthopedics/SportsMedicine/33890.
- Going global: 2012 Olympics. Department of Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation at Spaulding Hospital website. June 21, 2012. http://pmr.hms.harvard.edu/pages/42/147.
- Krupa C. Olympic doctors say it’s worth the sacrifices to make the team. American Medical News website. July 30, 2012. http://www.amednews.com/article/20120730/profession/307309936/7.
- McKee J. Courting Olympic gold. American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons website. September 2012. http://www.aaos.org/news/aaosnow/sep12/youraaos3.asp.
- Olympic doctors say it’s worth the sacrifices to make the team. Hospital for Special Surgery website. July 30, 2012. http://www.hss.edu/newsroom_olympic-doctors-make-the-team.asp.
- Riesenman S. Two HSS physicians prepare to join the US Olympic team in Athens. Hospital for Special Surgery website. June 14, 2004. http://www.hss.edu/conditions_two-hss-physicians-prepare-to-join-the-us-olympic-team-in-athens.asp.
- Rodeo S. 2012 Olympics: reflections about the Olympics experience. Hospital for Special Surgery website. August 11. 2012. http://hss.edu/onthemove/2012-olympics-reflections-about-the-olympics-experience/#.UtftjvRDtHU.
- Rodeo S. Perspectives from an Olympics team physician in Beijing. Olympics MD website. July 25, 2012. http://olympicsmd.blogspot.com/.