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IAEM members working with sporting organisations

Mr John O’Donnell

Emergency Medicine Consultant in University Hospital Galway, Ireland.

He also works as the team doctor for Connacht Rugby.

I started working as a Consultant in Emergency Medicine at University Hospital Galway in 2001 having completed my SpR training on the Training scheme in Edinburgh, Scotland with some time spent also in the Liverpool Hospital, Sydney. I have always had an interest in sports injuries and during my training had worked with the Edinburgh Reevers team providing match cover for some of their home matches.

On my return to Galway I was approached by Connacht Rugby who asked if I would be interested in getting involved with them. Rugby became professional in 1994 but at that stage Connacht was very much the “poor relative” of the other provinces. They had a part-time Physiotherapist and medical cover was provided by one or two volunteer doctors who braved the elements at the sportsground. Suturing if needed was done in the back of the Order of Malta ambulance.

Since those days things have transformed beyond recognition. We now have a new Clubhouse and three full time Physiotherapists. We also have a massage therapist who travels with the team for away matches.

My work with the team now involves coordinating the Pre participation evaluations at the start of the season – this includes a screening and physical examination, vaccinations etc. The Senior Physiotherapist also does a full musculoskeletal assessment. We arrange specialist evaluation of conditions if needed.

The season involves about 35 matches, both home and away. At the start of the season we divide these between two of us – Dr Donie O’Byrne who is a G.P.  and myself. On match days we also have a match day doctor to specifically manage the players with suspected concussion – my colleague Mr James Binchy usually covers this role. Match day preparation generally involves coming to the grounds an hour or so before the match to prepare and set up. We have an AED, spinal boards, entonox, oxygen etc and a St. John’s Ambulance with crew for all matches.

The away matches are very well organised, a full itinerary having been circulated on the previous week. For matches in Ireland and the UK, the van leaves the day before the team with all the gear etc. required for a game day. The itinerary is always well organised and planned and outlines where everyone will be and what they will be wearing. We have about 16 away matches a season so this means a significant amount of time away with the team. This allows you get to know the players and management very well. As the team doctor you are very much part of the team.

Day to day during the season, I am in close communication with the Team physiotherapist and will review players with injuries or those who require xrays, scanning etc as needed. My colleague is a G.P. and looks after their primary care needs. Over the last number of years we have had reserved MRI slots on Monday mornings at a private MRI facility nearby and we have a number of specialists in Galway and Dublin that will see players at short notice.George Naoupu leaves the field injured 5/1/2013

As Emergency Medicine Specialists, we are the most appropriate specialists to provide pitchside cover. There is a designated Emergency Medicine Consultant pitchside for all the international matches at the Aviva Stadium and I have covered a number of these. This involves being responsible for the suturing and Concussion assessments on players. I have also been the Ireland A (Wolfhounds) team doctor for a number of home and away matches. I have helped to run the IRFU “SAFE Rugby” course which is a course aimed a medical personnel working pitchside and I am a member of the IRFU Medical Advisory Committee which meets every couple of months.

Being involved with a professional team like Connacht can be extremely rewarding especially as there is a great sense of being part of the team. Since I got involved 14 years ago I have covered over 200 matches. In that time we have had some memorable wins – beating Toulouse in the Heineken cup on their home ground in 2013 was a definite high point but we have had many more high points along the way.

Hopefully this will be our year!

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