Many physicians think of the Olympics as the on-field experience of a lifetime—a dream assignment for the chosen few. However, getting the chance to cover the US Olympic Team isn't out of reach if you're willing to volunteer your time and prove yourself at the Olympic training centers and at smaller world competitions.
Any physician in the United States is eligible to apply to become a US Olympic team medical volunteer; similar programs exist for certified athletic trainers and chiropractors. "We've accepted general surgeons, plastic surgeons, ob-gyn specialists, pediatricians, and internists," says Jennifer Stone, MS, ATC, medical coordinator and head athletic trainer for the US Olympic Team. "However, they have to show some documented team physician experience." Physicians must have 5 years of on-field experience beyond the residency and fellowship. Orthopedic surgeons must be board certified. The United States Olympic Committee (USOC) prefers applicants who have completed a sports medicine fellowship or taken the American College of Sports Medicine Team Physician Course.
What's the First Step?
The first rung on the Olympic sports medicine ladder is to spend 2 weeks volunteering at one of the three USOC training centers: San Diego; Lake Placid, New York; or Colorado Springs, Colorado. There are about 30 to 50 openings a year. "We assign the qualified applicants on a first-come first-served basis," Stone says, adding that the times of heaviest need are summers. Winters are busy at Lake Placid, but physicians are needed virtually year-round at Colorado Springs. Volunteers cover athletes who are training for 41 Olympic sports. Daily schedules for physicians are irregular and depend on athlete practice schedules.
Physicians can apply anytime throughout the year, and applications are filed by date of receipt. To request an application, write to the US Olympic Committee, Division of Sports Medicine and Science, 1 Olympic Plaza, Colorado Springs, CO 80909.
The next step toward the Olympics is covering one of the big international competitions: the World University Games (which have replaced the US Olympic Festival) or Pan American Games. Event coverage comes by invitation from the pool of volunteers who have worked at the training centers. Invitations are made based on evaluation on the USOC medical staff.
At the Olympics
The US Olympic medical team is chosen from the pool of people who have covered international competitions. The International Olympic Committee sets limits on how many physicians can cover each Olympic team: The number is based on the number of athletes on the team and on the geographic distance between venues. So that as many doctors can participate as possible, an individual can only serve at the Olympic training center once and can only work at each international event once.