‘A day in the life of the MUSC Health Sports Medicine team’

Guest Post by:

Shane K. Woolf, MD
Chief, Sports Medicine
Department of Orthopaedics
Medical University of South Carolina

The crowds have departed, the tents have come down, the world-class tennis athletes have begun competition for their next tournaments, and the MUSC Health Sports Medicine team has settled back into a ‘normal’ workweek.

From April 4th through 12th around 90 international athletes, and a half dozen physiotherapists, massage therapists and other medical staff from the Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) occupied the clubhouse at the Family Circle Cup, which was repurposed as a locker room, lounge, dining hall, physiotherapy center, equipment repair and tuning shop, and medical clinic for these remarkably talented athletes.  It was a wonderful week of great competition, classy sportsmanship, and beautiful spring Charleston days. Much of our time was spent either in the small office we used as our clinic or out near the courts to be immediately available if needed.

I had the good fortune of collaborating on the care of the athletes once again with Alec Decastro, MD (Primary Care Sports Medicine), Jana Upshaw, MD (Emergency Medicine), and Michael Barr, PT (Sports Medicine and Physical Therapy). Our efforts with the WTA for this year’s tournament actually began just after the 2014 event ended, when we all debriefed the medical care provided to the athletes and mapped out the plan for the 2015 event.  Out of that discussion came improvements in our care coordination as well as technologic advances including implementation of a telemedicine connection with our medical subspecialty colleagues at MUSC. The athletes and physiotherapists with the WTA were thrilled to have the ability to virtually ‘meet’ with consulting specialists, themselves world-class, from MUSC without leaving the comfort of the clubhouse.

Throughout the past year, planning the medical coverage, organizing the necessary medical supplies, credentialing and background checks for our team, regular teleconferences with the WTA sports medicine leadership, and on-site coordination with the local Family Circle Cup organizers, Bob Moran and Eleanor Adams were tasks that our group addressed nearly every week to prepare for the 9 days of competition.

Our week actually began on April 3rd, the night prior to the qualifying matches, with a meeting with the WTAs physiotherapists at our medical clinic. We reviewed protocols, emergency action plans, medical record keeping, ‘red alert’ athletes who have unusual or risky medical conditions, and even assessed several athletes who were arriving from tournaments elsewhere in the world. Overall, the three MUSC Health Sports Medicine physicians split our duties covering the tournament from 9 AM until 10 or 11 PM most every night of the week. Each of us also had clinical duties all week, so this meant little sleep, long days, tight schedules, and over 60 hours of time providing medical care at the FCC in addition to our regular practices. Despite the All-Access badges, walkie-talkie, direct interaction with famous athletes, and perceptions of family and friends who see us roaming the FCC grounds all week, this role is rewarding, enjoyable, and fun, but certainly not glamorous.

Dr. Alec DeCastro at the Family Circle Cup
Dr. Alec DeCastro participates in the coin toss at the Family Circle Cup 2015.

A typical day might involve a physical exam for a new WTA athlete who won in the qualifier. This is completed with numerous pages of documentation. Then the physiotherapists might ask for a shoulder evaluation on an athlete who complains of pain on motion of the joint after a match. We are each credentialed to evaluate and treat these athletes with rehab protocols, prescription anti-inflammatories, antibiotics and so forth.  So the evaluations are handled like any other clinical visit in practice. Another knock on the clinic door might bring an athlete who needs a contact lens prescription or perhaps renewal of asthma medication.

Then the walkie talkie will awaken with a call from one of the PTs on Court 3 with an athlete who is feeling dizzy in the second set of her match. We gather our medical bag, including stethoscope, blood pressure cuff, and other supplies, and rush out to the court to assess the athlete for cardiac or heat related issues. In this case, dehydration from a gastrointestinal condition might be the problem. She finishes the match, but then comes into the medical office to obtain documentation for a medical withdrawal from her next tournament so that she will have an extra week to rest and recover from the illness. We are responsible for this documentation and any necessary treatment plans as well. Similarly, more complex injuries might warrant consultation with our peers at MUSC, referral for specialty evaluation, or mapping a treatment plan for the player as she travels to the next tournament in Europe or South America.

Each night would end with a check out among the medical personnel on athletes who just finished the evening matches. In many cases, we might examine an athlete or two after 10 PM once the fans have left, the player has checked in with the WTA, urine blood doping screen was completed and she still has a knee or wrist that is aching. Once all of the documentation is finished, we shut down the medical clinic and head home to rest a few hours before the next day’s work begins.

It is a privilege to work with the WTA, Family Circle Cup, and these talented athletes. They trust the care of our MUSC Health Sports Medicine team. We are already beginning to prepare for next year’s Family Circle Cup April 2-10, 2016! Hope to see you there.

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