In 2010 I was a sports medicine registrar working at Sports Med Subiaco. I’d just run my first serious marathon and was eying off doing a destination race. Like an iconic ultramarathon or one of the four deserts events. It was around that time that I received a phone call from the ‘Racing the Planet’ race organisers. They needed an event doctor for their 2011 Kimberley race. As quite a junior sports doctor I was flattered and excited. This was an event I was very interested in checking out and I was super keen. The conversation went a bit like this;
“So, what’s involved?”
“You’ll be required to provide medical support for the competitors in the event. It is a four day ultramarathon race held through a remote environment in extreme conditions”
“What is the remuneration?”
“You’ll get free flights, accommodation and food. But, um, no pay.”
“What medical equipment do you have already”
“You will need to bring everything that you think you’ll need”
“What evacuation strategy and emergency services are in place?
“There are regional hospitals in some of the nearest towns and a tertiary hospital in Darwin.”
Looking back, it was a complete no-brainer. But my interest in the event saw me seriously consider it. After all, it would be great to escape daily clinic work and hang out with like-minded runners in the beautiful and remote Kimberley region. But despite my enthusiasm, there was no way I could accept. The terrible level of support for an event with such a risk for a variety of emergency situations made it untenable.
What happened next is well known. The runners were caught in a bushfire and four participants suffered life-threatening injuries. One of the victims, Turia Pitt, has become a household name and inspiration to many for the way she has bravely faced the incredible adversity of those injuries. She suffered burns to 65% of her body and had four fingers from her left hand and her right thumb amputated.
I’ve never met Turia personally. Shortly after the incident, I called her legal team and offered my testimony about my conversations highlighting the lack of medical planning by race organisers. I assume my testimony wasn’t required as I was never called back.
In my mind, this was a career bullet dodged. Too often event organisers and sporting clubs see medical coverage as a box to be ticked rather than an important task that requires adequate experience and support to be done well. Unfortunately, organisers and clubs will consider their job done by ensuring there is a doctor present. When the proverbial hits the fan, the doctor can make for an easy scapegoat as well.
Too often the romance of travel, elite sporting teams and iconic events sees professionals in all disciplines undersell their value which also undermines their perceived worth.
I potentially dodged many months of cross-examination about foreseeable risk and adequate contingency all because I (nearly) undersold the quality and value of my service due to eagerness of association.
My advice to young professionals is to not let flattery or a sexy opportunity compromise the quality or value of your service. Don’t undersell yourself.