William Stetson, MD, an orthopaedic surgeon from Burbank, Calif. specializing in sports medicine, was the Olympic team physician for the U.S. men’s and women’s volleyball teams at the 2012 London
AAOS Now spoke with Dr. Stetson on day four of the Olympics—Tuesday, July 31—about what it is was like to be team physician for these elite athletes.
AAOS Now: Before we get into your role as team physician, can you tell us about your own background as a volleyball player?
Dr. Stetson: I went to the University of Southern California on a volleyball scholarship and played there for 4 years. I was an All-American in 1981 and 1982 and was captain of the team in 1982. We went to the Final Four every year; we won the national championship in 1980, finished second in 1979 and 1981, and finished in third place in 1982. So, we had a great deal of success.
AAOS Now: How did you become an Olympic team physician?
Dr. Stetson: I’ve been taking care of the male volleyball players since 2005, and I’ve been helping care for the women since 2009.
To become an Olympic team physician, you have to be selected by what are called the national governing bodies. Volleyball has its own national governing body, as do other sports, such as swimming. Then, after you are selected, you need to apply to the United States Olympic Committee, or USOC, which verifies all of your credentials.
After that, you go to an Olympic training center for 2 weeks to see how you get along with the athletes as well as the athletic trainers. The athletic trainers are a big part of the USOC, so you have to make sure that you’re able to work well with them and that you fit in with the team. If that goes well, then you have the possibility of going to the Olympics.
AAOS Now: What was it like to be at the Opening Ceremony?
Dr. Stetson: You could sense the excitement in the air. Everyone was taking lots of photos. Kobe Bryant [of the U.S. men’s basketball team] was probably the biggest hit. Everyone wanted to take a photo with him.
AAOS Now: What are your responsibilities as team physician?
Dr. Stetson: I am with the athletes in the training room as well as when we travel to the venue. For volleyball, the venue is Earls Court in downtown London. During the pregame warm-up, I am on hand in case problems arise. I’m also there at the match. The team physician is actually required to be on the bench, rather than just on the sidelines.
Because of my volleyball background, I can serve as the team doctor and also help do some statistics and scout the other team during matches. I really enjoy being here and being so close to the action.
AAOS Now: What are some of the most common musculoskeletal conditions and injuries?
Dr. Stetson: By far, the most common problems we see in volleyball players are overuse injuries, both of the shoulder and knee. We also see some injuries that require surgery. For example, one player had an osteochondral defect—the athlete knocked off a piece of cartilage on the lateral femoral condyle, meaning the outside part of the knee. I performed surgery to remove a loose body and then performed abrasion chondroplasty.
AAOS Now: What about other illnesses?
Dr. Stetson: Anyone who has been a sports team doctor knows that we take care of a lot of other things besides orthopaedic injuries. We have to be well-versed on general medicine, too. We are really blessed at the Olympics because the USOC has a medical clinic staffed by excellent physicians, including family medicine physicians and sports medicine physicians. So, if one of our athletes has a cold or a problem I haven’t treated in 20 years, I send the player there.
AAOS Now: You also need to stay current on the list of banned substances, correct?
Dr. Stetson: Absolutely. When we prescribe medicine, we are careful about ensuring it is not on the list of banned substances. After every match, one of our athletes is usually chosen to undergo random drug testing. It doesn’t just have to be after a match, though. It can occur anytime, day or night.
AAOS Now: What are the medical facilities like in the Olympic village?
Dr. Stetson: The Olympic village is like a small city. The medical clinic for the American athletes has chiropractors, massage therapists, physical therapists, general practitioners, family doctors who specialize in sports medicine, and orthopaedic surgeons.
The International Olympic Committee has what’s called a polyclinic, a four-story building staffed with dentists, orthopaedic surgeons, massage therapists, chiropractors, a full-time pharmacy, and more. Outside, they have two MRI scanners, a full radiographic suite, and a computed tomography scanner, so athletes are able to get any of those tests right away, if needed.
AAOS Now: What will you remember most about your time at the 2012 Olympics?
Dr. Stetson: It has been fun working with all the players and coaches. I have known many of these coaches for years. We have great camaraderie with one another. I also can’t say enough about the athletic trainers, who do the lion’s share of the work here.
It’s really been a thrill to be here and be part of the Olympic spirit. The people here in London have been fantastic—very friendly and helpful. They are putting on a wonderful Olympic games. Hats off to them.