Guest blog – Starting out in SEM, by Dr Tamim Khanbhai
January 6, 2012 1 Comment
I am relatively new to Sports & Exercise medicine (SEM), having made the big change from a stable career in General Practice / Family Medicine to the more uncertain life as a SEM physician. People often ask how I went into a speciality that many other medics don’t even know exist.
My story, which is no doubt different from many others in SEM started with me qualifying as a GP in 2009. Whilst being a GP registrar I realised I was weak in musculoskeletal medicine and always felt this was poorly taught in medical school, and so I was toying with the idea of doing a postgraduate qualification in musculoskeletal (MSK) problems. A friend had done an SEM MSc, and having always enjoyed watching a variety of sports and playing a few (recreationally), it felt like a good way to go.
I also happened to have a GP group that met once weekly in the Leyton Orient FC (LO) football ground. This may sound strange but there is a ‘health centre’ within the stadium and we used a meeting room that overlooked the stadium. This group ran for about a year and there is no doubt, that starting a distance learning SEM MSc combined with watching over LO FC football ground on a weekly basis really filled me with excitement. From that moment on my ambition was to complete the MSc and work with LO in some capacity, perhaps even as their club doctor one day.
The SEM MSc took two years to complete but it was distance learning and although my knowledge was improving, getting experience in SEM medicine is not straightforward. It’s not like doing a dermatology diploma where you can simply call the local hospital and sit in with dermatologists. There are extremely few SEM clinics in the NHS or community setting in London, where I am based.
However I approached multiple SEM consultants in the NHS and predominately in the private sector, and physiotherapists. Thankfully ‘we’ seem to be quite a decent bunch and most were more than happy for me to gain experience in their clinics. For me it was a real insight into the medicine involved in SEM and it soon became apparent that the knowledge base required is huge and covers many disciplines. My aim at this point was still to complete the MSc but also be a team doctor. For me it became apparent that getting into clinics or meeting teachers on an MSc course was relatively straight forward but getting involved in a team was a much more closed circle. How to get in?? I was keen to be involved in football, as it is a sport that I played and enjoyed from as early as I can remember. Well snooker is another love, but not sure about the amount of SEM required here! Perhaps some health promotion!
Getting into club football involved attending Football Association conferences and by chance I managed to meet the doctor at Leyton Orient. Of course meeting and getting involved are two different things but by now I had made some ‘contacts’. A friend put in a good word for me and luckily LO needed a reserves team doctor. I met with the club doctor and pretty soon the role was mine.
This was really great experience, in a friendly club, and my first insight into the role and responsibilities of a club doctor and the medical setup within a professional club. Fortunately I stayed there for almost 18 months after which I managed to get the club doctor role at Barnet FC in July 2011 and where I have been working since. I also gained more experience by offering my services for ‘free’ working as a pitch side doctor for BUCS (British Universities & Colleges Sport) which was by chance organised by the England Women’s football doctor and has lead me to get a role as the team doctor for England women’s U-15’s starting in February 2012.
Over the last year whilst this was all going on, I thought more deeply about a full time career in SEM and decided to pursue this full time. It is an area that is exciting, challenging and diverse. I took the big step of leaving my successful and stable career in general practice and although nervous have been back in hospital over the last 5 months having started in August 2011. Fellow SEM registrars are supportive and although there are doubts about future jobs within the NHS, this is definitely the area of speciality that I want to pursue full time. The last few months have been great and cemented my decision to move from GP.
The role of a SEM physician is clearly challenging, especially when you have to describe your role to fellow physicians and surgeons who have never heard of your speciality and convince them of the need for SEM, let alone convincing government to provide more jobs within the NHS setting.
So why did I make this risky decision to change career? Well, because I believe SEM has a major part to play in the future of health/exercise promotion, tackling obesity, injury prevention and management to name but a few areas. Additionally as SEM physicians in a relatively young speciality, I think it is in our hands to promote this speciality playing a major part in shaping the future of SEM to make it the success it should be.
Dr Khanbhai is a current specialty trainee (registrar) in Sport and Exercise Medicine based in London, UK