The Physician and Sportsmedicine
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[EDITOR'S NOTES]

Is It OK to Be a Fan and a Team Physician?

THE PHYSICIAN AND SPORTSMEDICINE - VOL 30 - NO. 9 - SEPTEMBER 2002


The patient population we serve in sports medicine is much different than that of other branches of medicine. Physicians express empathy (understanding, sympathy, and compassion) toward those with disease and illness. Empathy is considered an essential virtue of the ethical medical care provider, along with veracity and fidelity. Empathy provides a healthy balance between anxiety and coldness, intimacy and detachment, subjectivity and objectivity. Each physician seeks the line that separates these qualities.

Sports medicine often stimulates an emotion that interacts with empathy: admiration, or, more directly expressed, the desire to see an athlete or team win. It seems as though the virtue of empathy and the emotion of admiration are very different. Empathy is more passive. Admiration—being a fan—is more active.

Inherent in providing care for athletes and teams is the risk that being a fan will hinder objectivity. Of course, the way this dilemma is handled is different for every physician. But the risk in sports medicine is that being a fan increases the chance of losing objectivity in the management of medical conditions and injuries.

Athletes pick up very quickly on whether or not the physician is there primarily for the team and the accompanying advantages or is there just for the athletes. They accept it because that is the structure of team dynamics. That is one of the reasons many athletes request second opinions. For example, the NHL Players' Association has a group of physician consultants available to provide second opinions.

How do you deal with this potential conflict in your own practice? One suggestion is to be a physician and not a fan with the exception of competitive events. That way, the boundaries are distinct, and the physician is not seen to be moving between fan and physician.

Everyone can understand the excitement and emotion of a game, match, or meet. But it is wholly possible for team physicians during competition to detach themselves from that emotion once judgment is needed and not return to being a fan until the next event. This type of behavior communicates clearly to the athletes and coaches that we, as medical providers, can remain objective and dispassionate in medical decision making.

Best,
Gordon O. Matheson, MD, PhD
Editor-in-Chief


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