SCGhealth Blog

Do You Have What It Takes to be an Olympic Physician?

Monday, February 12, 2018

By Audrey Landers

The 2018 Winter Olympics officially began on February 8. As the weeks progress millions around the world will watch athletes who have trained their entire lives for this golden opportunity to compete in the largest sporting event in the world. 244 American athletes are competing in PyeongChang, South Korea this year with a team of Olympic physicians at their beck and call.

Just like the athletes, physicians train for years for the opportunity to go to the Olympics. On top of the years of school and residency, physicians will also have to endure a grueling selection and training process, all at their own expense. The first step in the process is to contact the national organization representing the sport whose Olympic team you would like to travel with. If you get selected it’s time to start getting your paperwork together: an aspiring Olympic physician will have to submit the expected cover letter, CV, resume and references with their application, as well as copies of their state license, Board of Certification certificate, all additional certifications, malpractice insurance (You must be insured for at least $1 million), and a current CPR/AED certificate. Oh, and don’t forget the non-refundable $90 application fee. By the way, if you have any felonies, disciplinary actions or sanction, don’t even bother applying, you must have a squeaky clean record.

Applicants will then have the opportunity to travel, at their own expense, to a training facility where they will spend 2 weeks being evaluated. It’s important that a physician is able to work well under pressure, be quick thinking and communicate effectively with coaches, athletes and other staff. If they pass this evaluation period then they may be invited to volunteer at domestic and international competitions leading up to the Olympics, where they will continue to work under intense scrutiny.

If a physician finally makes it to the Olympics, they may stay with their sports team but it’s likely they will also work with other groups as well. The Olympics are chaotic, in the 2014 there was an estimated 14 injuries per 100 athletes, with nearly 40% preventing further training or competition. Between 16 hour days and being on call 24/7, Olympic physicians are under just as much pressure as the athletes they treat. 

At the end of the day, its worth it. Aside from the fame and increase in patients some Olympic physicians may see, most are happy just to have the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to participate in the global event. Dr. Marcia Whalen, who was the head team physician for USA Water Polo from 2008 to 2012, spoke about the surrealism of being able to watch from the sidelines as her team won the gold medal in 2012 “I’m looking at a poster in my office of the athletes standing poolside with the American flag and the gold medals in their hand… I have the same picture on my phone because I was right there watching them at the time.”

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