Olympic Dreams? Physicians Must Qualify to Make the Olympic Medical Team

February 7, 2018


The Olympic dream doesn't apply to athletes only. It takes thousands of people working in an array of fields to pull off this iconic event. Urban planners, architects, event planners, media specialists, language translators – the list goes on. Among the critically important staff members are those who make up the Olympic medical team – and just like athletes, these professionals also must qualify.

If you've ever thought of working as an Olympic physician, understand that joining this elite group can be a long and arduous journey that starts in medical school – long before you begin practicing. But those who have succeeded say it's worth every effort.

Olympic physicians cover a range of specialties. The full team will include orthopedic surgeons, general practitioners, family practitioners, physical therapists, massage therapists, chiropractors and even dentists. But most boast a solid background in sports medicine.

So, to boost your chances, your first order of business is to study sports medicine with the aim of joining or opening a firm that treats professional athletes. Once you've developed a solid track record, you'll want to contact the national governing body of a sport you'd like to focus on and let officials know you'd like to be considered for the Olympic medical team. If you land a recommendation, the next step is to apply to the United States Olympic Committee (USOC).

USOC requirements including possessing an unrestricted medical license and reporting to one of the committee's three training facilities (Colorado Springs, CO; Lake Placid, NY; Chula Vista, CA) for a two-week evaluation period. During evaluations, you'll need to prove not only your basic medical skills, but also your ability to work under extreme pressure, effectively communicate and interact with elite athletes, coaches and trainers. Pass all tests and the next leg of your journey will involve interning at domestic national competitions held at one of the nation's Olympic training centers, followed by opportunities at international competitions including the Pan American Games or the Paralympics.

And then, it happens: If ultimately successful, you'll get the call you've been working for – the call asking you to report to the Olympic Village.

Within the Olympic Village, akin to a small city, is a full-service medical setup that serves as a home base for clinical care for all US athletes. As a member of the Olympic medical team, you may be assigned a number of athletes that you'll treat throughout the event, or you may provide treatment and support across the board. Days will be spent performing drug and diagnostic tests and administering treatment for ailments that can range from simple wrist or ankle sprains to potentially serious spinal injuries. Less serious but troublesome maladies you're sure to encounter include dehydration, sinusitis, upper respiratory conditions, coughs and sore throats, as well as traveler's diarrhea – practically a given as athlete's bodies adjust to changes in food and water in unfamiliar countries.

Preventative maintenance care also is important. You'll likely prescribe and oversee ice baths, therapeutic massages, chiropractic sessions and recovery workouts designed to help athletes remain in peak condition. Plus, hydration and customized vitamin and mineral supplementation help to increase endurance, minimize damage and speed up healing and recovery. 

Keep in mind that your work day as an Olympic physician can stretch to some 16 hours and you'll essentially be on-call 24/7. After all, the elite athletes you'll treat have worked years and made extreme sacrifices to perfect their bodies and develop their athletic skills. The stakes are high and, just like those athletes, you'll need to be at the top of your game every minute.

Your Olympic experience undoubtedly will be one you'll never forget. So, set your sights and start today. Begin with a call to WOLFPACC to find out how we can help prepare you for medical school and for passing your USMLE and COMLEX exams. Reach us at 904-209-3140.