One of the unique benefits of being a team physician with the University of Arkansas is accompanying the teams on certain away games. This week Dr. Yakin, Dr. Ylanan and myself travelled with the Razorback Women’s Basketball Team to Nashville, TN for the SEC Women’s Basketball tournament. Dr. Yakin (orthopedic surgeon) functions as “the bone doctor”, Dr. Ylanan (primary care sports medicine) functions as “the medicine doctor”, and I am the learner (primary care sports medicine fellow) picking up bits and pieces of sports medicine wisdom from my professors.
Yes, traveling to new cities is interesting and fun, but the role of a team physician does not go on hold during these trips. In fact more preparation takes place prior to the travel than does for home games. Anticipating the medical needs of the team prior to departure is a large part of planning. Also, being prepared for the unexpected, like the bus driver with an acute sinusitis, is an important piece of being prepared. Or being prepared for endemic illnesses that are present on international trips. Also, having anti-emetics on hand for motion sickness nausea while on long bus rides is another example of situations to be prepared for while traveling with a team.
Communication between the athletic trainers and the team physicians before a travel game takes place to prepare for any medical needs or musculoskeletal injuries that the team may have. For example, if one member of the team falls ill in the days leading up to a travel game it is our job to ensure they receive adequate prompt treatment and their teammates/roommates who may have been exposed receive necessary prophylaxis. This will ensure that the players who are healthy are able to play their game to their highest level of play.
As a physician who travels with their team you not only take care of the health needs of the athletes but also the needs of all support staff. There may not be an opportunity for someone traveling with the team to see a physician during a demanding schedule on the road with few breaks between game preparation, video, and chalk talk. From the starting point guard to Big Red, if you were requested to travel with the team you have an important role to help the team win. Often we serve as a type of concierge physician while on the road with the team.
Each provider carries their own medical bag stocked with the tools of their respective trade. Should the situation arise where someone requires medical attention the physician will have the supplies necessary to assist their patients. Ensuring this bag is prepared days prior to departure is a priority of a team physician.
Networking with the home team’s physicians and athletic trainers is not only collegial but also important for a team physician who travels. Over the years, many of the faces that you encounter while on road games are there year to year. They may not all be with the same team every year, but they tend to stay in this world. Professional friendships amongst other team physicians and athletic trainers is both give and take. If your athletes are in need of a medication for illness the home team’s physician will usually help out the visiting team’s physician with a prescription or necessary work up. The home team’s athletic trainers may also have something that your team doesn’t travel with or an extra item that your team may already be using. This in turn is reciprocated when they come to your home field or court. Coordination with the EMS and their support staff is also crucial prior to games In case there is an emergency while the game is occurring.
I have been fortunate over the last 8 months to travel as a primary care sports medicine fellow with some of the Razorback teams. I have gone to Tuscaloosa, Baton Rouge, Columbia, SC, Oxford, Dallas, Little Rock, and now Nashville with Razorback teams. There has been great experiences along the way while serving the teams on the road. “Being prepared” is probably the most important facet I have learned from my mentors while traveling with the teams but communication with home team physicians and the athletic trainers is also an integral part of being a good team physician.
Larry Balle II, MD, MPH
Primary Care Sports Medicine Fellow