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Korean physician comes back to motherland as US Olympic team doctor
  • By Lee Min-ju
  • Published 2018.02.12 11:49
  • Updated 2018.02.12 11:49
  • comments 0
Professor Roh You-sik of Stanford University

The Olympic Games are the global festival held every four years. The 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympics kicked off Friday with great fanfare. It is the second time Korea hosted such an event since the 1988 Seoul Olympics 30 years ago.

About 2,900 athletes from 92 countries will be participating in the 2018 PyeongChang Olympics in hopes of achieving their dreams of winning a medal. As athletes struggle to win medals, many nations have sent a medical team to provide the best support for their teams.

Notably, the U.S. Olympic team will be sending Professor Roh You- sik , a clinical assistant professor of orthopedic surgery at the Stanford University School of Medicine, who also holds a degree in sports medicine.

Korea Biomedical Review met with Professor Roh, who highlighted his participation as an opportunity of a lifetime, and asked him about his thoughts and role of the Olympic medical team.

Question: How did you become the U.S. Olympic team doctor in the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympics?

Answer: Since 2011 when Korea was selected to host the Winter Olympic Games, I decided to participate in the event by all means. I spent numerous hours volunteering at the Colorado Springs Olympic Training Center, which is similar to Korea’s Taeneung Training Center. During my time at the facility, I was able to see the similarities and dissimilarities between various fields of sports medicine. This volunteer was also an interview opportunity to inform the officials of the Olympic Training Center about who I am.

After continuously appealing to the United States Olympic Committee (USOC) of my intentions of becoming the team’s physician, the USOC finally offered me the job.

Q: It seems unlikely you were selected as the U.S. team doctor just because of your volunteering and proficiency in Korea. Were there any other factors that made you the perfect choice?

A: I think that the most crucial factor for becoming a U.S. Olympic team doctor is the ability to function as American medical staff. Since I am trained in internal medicine, rehabilitation and sports medicine, I was able to see patients with a spectrum of sports-related injuries and internal medicine conditions, which became a decisive factor. To play the role of a team physician for the whole team, one needs to be able to deal with any medical situation that might present itself.

Q: How did you feel when you were selected as the U.S. Olympic team doctor?

A: I was thrilled. As a generation, who grew up watching the 1986 Asian Games and 1988 Seoul Olympics, the shock I received while attending the events is still vivid. It was the first time I saw such a big sporting event, and also the first time I noticed that there were so many countries in the world. Since then, I have always been waiting for another Olympic to be held in Korea.

Notably, while majoring in sports medicine, I always wanted to take part in the Olympics held in my motherland as a doctor if I was given a chance. I think this opportunity is once-in-a-lifetime experience, both personally and professionally.

Professor Roh Yoo-shik of Stanford University

After graduating from Yonsei University in 1999, Professor Roh worked as an intern and an army surgeon before going to the U.S. in 2003. He majored in sports medicine at the Havard University’s Massachusetts General Hospital and SRH, after becoming a rehabilitation specialist from University of Massachusetts’ Framingham Union Hospital and internal medicine specialist from Stanford University. After returning to Stanford in 2011, he has been studying sports injuries, ultrasound and regenerative medicine as a clinical assistant professor of orthopedic surgery at the School of Medicine.

Q: Have you ever worked as a team doctor before?

A: Most recently, I participated as a medical director in the "2017 Women's Ice Hockey World Championship," which was the last global event before the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics. Here I saw the Korean team winning the championship.

In addition to my medical support experience as a team physician, I provided medical support to professional baseball and soccer teams, and the Boston marathon, while working as a sports medicine fellow at the Harvard Medical School’s Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) in Boston. Currently, I provide medical support to Stanford sports teams.

Q: Please explain the role of the medical team at the Olympics by using the U.S. national team as an example.

A: The medical team’s primary role is to respond to all medical incidents and accidents that occur to the U.S. national team. Medical personnel may be supported depending on the event, but since there is a limit regarding the size of the medical staff and their equipment we can bring, the Olympic medical crew plays the role of the “mothership” with missions such as supply, repair, and maintenance.

We look at all aspects of the athlete’s well-being ranging from the common flu to fractures. Also, we check the status of the players daily, while providing support during the actual games so that we can respond immediately to accidents that may occur. It means that our team will be on a 24/7 alert during the duration of the Olympic.

Coordination with local medical staff is also essential. Although we plan to take a considerable amount of medical equipment and medications from the U.S., we may need domestic help depending on the degree of injury. In case of severe damage, we plan to cooperate with the Korea Organizing Committee’s medical support team.

Currently, the U.S. medical team consists of three doctors and one chiropractor.

Q: Winter sports such as ice hockey have much potential for injuries. In which areas do you plan to focus the team’s medical support?

A: Injury prevention is our most prominent goal. To qualify for the Olympics, many athletes have spent numerous years of hard work to participate in the Olympic. I plan to focus on injuries so that it does not become a stumbling block to achieving their dreams.

It is also vital to help contestant maintain optimal conditions before the games. Almost all players tend to have small injuries as they have been exercising for a long time. So our medical team plans to help the athletes maintain their best condition so that such injuries do not get worse.

Q: What made you decide to major in sports medicine?

A: I decided to major in sports medicine, which was an unknown field to me, after wanting to combine my experience from my sports club member days with something new. I decided to study at Harvard University, which is well known for its sports medicine program.

Q: Interest in sports medicine after the Olympics is likely to increase. What is your take on the subject?

A: Sports medicine is a good challenge that can change one's point of view on sports games. It also tells you how much effort athletes put in before participating in the games and how they overcome injuries. Such process helps you look back at who you are while stimulating you in the process.

The experience of treating players is more of a mental reward than a material one. It is satisfying to see an athlete recovering from his/her injury, but you also pray during games so that they do not get injured. If they obtain good results, it makes you feel like you just earned a bonus.

Q: Any advice to doctors is thinking about majoring in sports medicine in the future?

A: If you have a sport that you like, keep a close eye or better yet participate as there is no better study than the first-hand experience. If you participate in the game, you will accumulate much knowledge in the process. This is especially true because the understanding of the sport is a factor that can affect the practice. Also, I believe it will is helpful to spend time volunteering in stadiums.


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