Professional life: Let the games begin

Dr Emma Lunan describes her experiences as a doctor for Team Scotland at the recent Commonwealth Games in Birmingham

monday august 1
I had arrived the day before to join the doctors of the Scottish team. Most of the team had been here for a week, but I had just been in charge of the European Youth Olympic Festival in Slovakia. Birmingham basks in the sun; it’s really dynamic and there’s a big buzz.

We did a lot of preparation. Since the interviews for the roles a year ago, there have been meetings and a team camp. Most of the doctors have been assigned to particular sports, but as this is one of my first big games, I will attend different events and sports as needed.

Today I am stationed at the Performance Center in the heart of Birmingham. This is an awesome facility where competitors can come if they want a gym session, nutritional advice, psychological support or various treatments. It is also a calm and relaxing space to escape from the frenetic atmosphere of the athletes’ villages.

Tuesday August 2
I’m back at the Performance Center. Being a general practitioner is a great help in these roles because often the problems are the ones we see every day in practice: respiratory diseases, gastrointestinal problems, skin problems. Prevention is key here, so team doctors also have a role in educating athletes and staff in terms of hygiene, diet, sun protection and of course the latest Covid protocols. The days are long and there is a lot of movement, but the intensity is much less than what I would experience in a day in training.

Wednesday August 3
One of the benefits of the role is watching sports if we have a free window. I managed to go to the hockey stadium with a few colleagues to watch the Scottish men play Pakistan. We lost, but the team was phenomenal and gave their all.

Parts of the role are highly specialized compared to the day-to-day work of GPs – particularly around MSK, of course. We are lucky to work with an excellent team of very experienced physiotherapists who know the athletes inside out.

A major aspect is medication management and understanding what we can and cannot give in terms of anti-doping rules. We need to know when to issue a “Therapeutic Use Exemption”, which allows athletes to be treated even if it involves a prohibited substance or method. Mental health is another major issue for athletes. I attended a two-day ‘champion of mental health’ course set up by the organizers of the games, where we learned more about the effects of stress and anxiety on athletes.

Saturday August 6
I am at the athletics stadium for the second consecutive day. The atmosphere is incredible – it’s the flagship sport of all games. The highlight of the morning was a blistering men’s 1500m race, with Scotland’s Jake Wightman taking bronze.

The evening session was special as Laura Muir won bronze for Scotland in the 800m, her first Commonwealth medal. She is clearly and understandably delighted with her achievement. The priority after the race is to get her to rest and recover so she can compete the next day.

monday august 8
My last session is at the dive center and it’s a beautiful morning to be there, as Grace Reid and James Heatly win a famous gold medal for Scotland.

We’re not always allowed pitchside or poolside, and that’s true with diving, so I’m watching from the bleachers. Then, the medalists are often asked to submit to doping control. They can take on a chaperone, who is often the team doctor. Sometimes the process can take a while as athletes can be dehydrated and unable to urinate, so be patient!

Although I didn’t take part in the closing ceremony, the Scotland team threw a big party in town, which I attended, with everyone in high spirits. We will follow this with a celebratory meeting at Stirling Castle in a few weeks.

I feel privileged to have worked with so many great colleagues and inspiring athletes. I applied to be a sports medical consultant alongside my work as a general practitioner. I hope to work on more emblematic events, including the Paris Olympics, but especially the next Commonwealth Games – in Melbourne!

Profile: Dr. Emma Lunan

The roles

  • GP Partner/Trainer, Marnock Medical Group, Kilmarnock
  • Chair, Movement for Health – a coalition of Scotland’s leading healthcare charities
  • Honorary Lecturer in Sport and Exercise Medicine, University of Glasgow
  • Specialist Physician, Orthopaedics, NHS Lanarkshire

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