Doctor's Review: Medicine on the Move

January 17, 2022


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Olympic touch

A Barrie MD gears up to be the core physician for Team Canada in Vancouver

This February, Dr Richard Goudie is heading to the Vancouver Olympics to provide medical coverage for Team Canada. He’s prepared to work hard, but hopes his professional skills won’t be in high demand. “It’s great news when the doctors aren’t busy,” confesses the sports medicine and emergency physician. “If we’re not practising medicine, the athletes are healthy.”

This 44-year-old Barrie, Ontario-based doctor is one of many Canadian medical specialists assigned to the 2010 winter games. Under the leadership of Chief Medical Officer, Dr Robert McCormack, Goudie is the “core” physician at Vancouver’s Olympic Village. The Whistler-Blackcomb Village’s core physician is Dr Victor Lun of Calgary, Alberta.

“It will be incredibly exciting to look after our athletes on home soil,” explains Goudie. Apart from providing medical services, job perks include: wearing the team uniform, living in the Olympic Village, spending most of the day alongside Canada’s top athletes and viewing sporting events at close range (while providing medical coverage for Team Canada). “You’re able to watch the top level of athleticism in the world with some of these athletes,” he says enthusiastically.

Because the games are in Vancouver, the Canadian health and sport science team will be the biggest assembled to accompany Team Canada at any major games. The group consists of about 60 experienced multi-disciplinary practitioners and specialists providing medical coverage and the latest scientific knowledge to assist athletes and coaches for a podium performance. “Some call it the team behind the team,” he says.

Podium physicians

About nine doctors will be looking after the Canadian athletes. They will be joined by a bevy of physiotherapists, massage therapists, chiropractors, mental performance consultants, athletic therapists and a nutritionist.

“Our job is to create an environment where the athlete’s health is never going to be a barrier to their performance,” he explains. To maintain consistency of care and treatment, many sports, including Skate Canada and Hockey Canada bring their own staff. “They travel with their own medical entourage because they want people familiar with the athletes and coaching staff, the demands of the sport and the injury patterns,” he explains.

As the core physician in Vancouver, Goudie’s duties include operating the Team Canada clinic and providing on-site coverage at designated events. Best described as a makeshift doctor’s office with state-of-the-art sports therapy equipment, the clinic provides comprehensive medical care. It handles anything from the diagnosis and initial management of new medical conditions like infections and pneumonia, fractures and common colds to the fine-tuning of existing injuries. “We tend to dish out plenty of Advil,” he says.

Just like athletes, the medical team members must pay their dues and gain experience at smaller games and eventually work their way up to the world’s biggest sporting event. “It’s been a long path,” confesses Goudie, who is new to the Olympic arena. In 2008, he was Team Canada’s Chief Medical Officer at the Paralympic Games in Beijing. (To apply for such positions, applications must be sent to the Canadian Academy of Sports Medicine).

Goudie’s road to the Olympics started in 1991, when he became involved with the medical coverage of smaller sporting events like local marathons and community hockey games. “The physiology of human performance in sports has always fascinated me,” he explains. “Helping at these events makes good sense because it puts my interests and clinical skills to good use.”

Over the years, this military trained doctor who also works at a pain clinic and takes on shifts in occupational health at Honda Canada, has provided medical coverage for Canadian athletes around the world at various sporting events, including the Pan Am and the Para-Pan Am Games, the Commonwealth Games, the Francophone Games and the World University Games.

As for the ride? “It’s been amazing,” he says. Highlights include marching during opening ceremonies with Team Canada at the Paralympic Games in Beijing, treating injured participants thereby allowing them to compete and seeing the maple leaf raised at the podium. “The level of patriotism you experience when Canada wins a medal is exhilarating,” he confesses. “It’s so emotionally overwhelming.”

Family planning

While the job of looking after Canada’s top athletes has plenty of rewards, financial compensation isn’t one of them. “It’s all volunteer work, so everything is pro bono,” he explains. Apart from juggling work shifts, it’s also a huge family burden for a married father of two young children. “It means leaving my wife Darlene (also a physician) to hold down the fort with the kids for a month.”

But his family is very supportive. “The kids love it when I bring them back souvenirs.” He’s also planning to take them to future games if selected to be part of the Canadian Health Care team again. “Lukas is seven and Gabrielle is nine, so they’re almost ready.”

As for medical specifics? Planning starts about one to two years in advance, so when the torch is lit in Vancouver, everything is ready to go. Business at the clinic starts off slow, but often picks up during week two. That’s when the communicable and infectious diseases start rolling in. Says Goudie: “Bob McCormack (Chief Medical Officer for the Canadian Olympic Team) sums it up perfectly: ‘The Olympics are where the viruses of the world come to compete.’” Little wonder, considering the number of people living, training, eating and competing in close quarters.

“We tend to see more flu and gastrointestinal problems towards the end of the games as the athletes start to display more fatigue due to the competition and training involved which may make their immune system weaker,” explains Goudie. The Vancouver games might also be more problematic due to potential problems associated with the H1N1 flu virus.

But, it’s the physiotherapists, athletic therapists, chiropractors and massage therapists who are worked the hardest. “They are with the athletes non stop,” he comments. “By the end of the games, their hands are worn down to their elbows.”

On the health side, the doctor is hopeful that Vancouver will be as successful as the Beijing Olympics. “China was phenomenal because it was quiet on the medical front. The athletes were very healthy. They slept well, ate well and avoided injuries for the most part.”

What’s next? While Goudie recognizes that working at the Vancouver Olympics is a career milestone, he’s not in it for the accolades. “I just like to help out and hopefully I can make a difference.” Continuing at the Olympic level is an option (each major games requires a fresh application) but volunteering at smaller sporting events is still in the cards. “I don’t always feel the need to go for something big and fancy.

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