In my years as an orthopedic surgeon, I have had the honor of caring for elite, professional, and everyday athletes alike. The Rio 2016 Olympic Games mark my 4th consecutive Games as the Team Physician for USA Swimming, previously serving in 2004, 2008, and 2012. Those representing Team USA train a good part of their lives for this moment and the Games are a culmination of their training. These athletes who are this dedicated deserve physicians who are just as dedicated.
Although it can be fun to be support and treat Team USA athletes, it’s important to remember that it’s a job first, not a vacation. Being a team physician takes a lot of time and many sacrifices are made. In terms of preparation, the Games are a yearlong lead up as our medical team works on planning, organizing, thinking about which vaccines to recommend if applicable, and local medial provider information. We also discuss the materials needed by our medical staff during the competitions. As it gets closer, we review the medical histories of the athletes and in order to understand any lingering issues, we communicate with local physicians at home for treatment and medications.
As a physician, I’m often asked if there’s a difference between treating members of Team USA and athletes of other sports, and my answer is no. It’s important to treat any athlete as if they’re your private patient. Making informed decisions when it comes to instances of competing through injury and evaluating injuries thoroughly should be kept in mind when treating an athlete, as their health is top priority.
With the continued advancement of sports science (i.e., strength training, nutrition, etc.), there incremental changes in the ways we work with our athletes each year. What this means for us is that we need to continue to understand exercise physiology and recovery consistently to better assist our athletes. This can come from working with high level athletes and coaches to further athletic training, learning to effectively use all resources to get better.
As the first designated National Medical Center of the United States Olympic Committee (USOC), it’s an honor and a privilege to work with athletes at such a high level. With Hospital for Special Surgery (HSS) being recognized as a center of excellence, not only are you able to provide your knowledge to athletes and coaches, but you are also learning from them. I am proud to be a part of Team USA as well as our medical team of physicians, therapists, and the like, providing gold medal care to our athletes this summer!
Dr. Scott Rodeo is an orthopedic surgeon and the co-chief emeritus of the Sports Medicine and Shoulder Service at Hospital for Special Surgery. He specializes in sports medicine injuries of the knee, shoulder, ankle, and elbow.