Supporting the Core Canadian Medical Team at the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics
The journey to become a medical physician for an Olympic team can be as lengthy and gruelling as becoming an athlete.
Much like the Olympians, the medical team must follow a meticulous process to prepare for the big event.
“Medical staff like myself are selected 6-8 months before the event. We have a series of meetings, workshops and orientation seminars,” says Dr. Lee Schofield, a sport and exercise physician at the Department of Family and Community Medicine.
“We arrive at the site 12 days early to get organized and be ready for the athletes when they arrive. We also review every athlete’s medical information to ensure they have no allergies or potential drug interactions which are banned at the event.”
The process is more extensive for higher-level medical staff who have to perform site visits, meet the medical staff in the host country, look at the medical facilities, get a tour of the athlete’s village and meet the Canadian sports teams.
During the months leading up to the Olympics, the Canadian medical team organizes medical supplies for shipping and liaises with all the national teams about necessary medical equipment. They also communicate safety procedures on immunization, disease prevention, food and health as well as jet lag management to the athletes.
Dr. Schofield has been involved in many international athletic events including the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang. He was part of the health services team, primarily worked with the long track speed skating team and occasionally covered the figure skating events.
“My main job was to be at the speed skating venue for practises and competitions,” he says, “The crowds in Korea for speed skating were just phenomenal and over-the-top excited. It was an experience that would not translate very well to television, because the energy was just extraordinary.”
Additionally, he attended athletes, support staff, volunteers and coaches at the athlete’s village clinic 5-6 hours a day to manage any injuries and illnesses. Above all, he was also present for the big wins.
“It’s been amazing to be part of this experience. I got to spend time with Ted Bloeman after he won two medals in long track speed skating and it was a neat experience to see him so excited. All the athletes are really amazing and especially appreciative and friendly towards the medical staff.”
Prior to the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, Dr. Schofield has also been part of the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio, the 2017 Invictus Games and the 2015 PanAm Games in Toronto. Each event is very unique in terms of its mandate and the experience that comes with it, he says. The Invictus Games were by far one of his most memorable competition because of its obligation to rehabilitate and provide physical and mental support to wounded warriors.
Dr. Schofield’s involvement in sports and exercise medicine started from his personal interest and experience in sports. Being an athlete himself, he met physicians working in this field while treating his injuries and developed a great passion for it.
He emphasizes that to become a physician for an athletic team, volunteering is key. He has volunteered at different levels of events and groups to get experience and exposure. These opportunities have helped him land work at world competitions: Everything from local events in Toronto to provincial events to working with local soccer clubs is relevant.
“You have to be open to what experiences you are looking to participate in. Eventually, you will have the opportunity to work with whom you like and maybe go to the Olympics but what matters is you gain the experience. Often times, what people are looking for is if you are dedicated and work well with other people and if you can pick up the skill set as you go.”
He advises students studying sports and exercise medicine to keep an open mind during their experience.
“It's a really exciting opportunity to explore the different avenues. In this field, the ‘exercise’ piece has become very important, so make sure you recognize that part of your training,” he says.