Locum program physician has a 'passion' for sports medicine
Imagine telling a teen athlete at a major athletic event that his or her dream of a medal is over due to an injury.
That’s the crushing reality faced by the sports medicine doctors who help ensure events such as the Western Canada Summer Games go on. The Games were held last month in Swift Current. Among the throngs of volunteers helping the Games run smoothly was Dr. Babak Salamati, a family physician in the Saskatchewan Medical Association’s locum program who has taken a fellowship in sports medicine.
He noted the young athletes at the Games – as young as 10 and up to 18 years of age – have been training their hearts out for a chance to win a medal for their province or their team. Unfortunately, some have their dreams snuffed out by injury. Dr. Salamati, who worked in a clinic for most of the Games, was often the one to break the bad news.
“When they get hurt it’s not just a physical pain that they are in,” he said. “They are in emotional pain because they might not have the capacity to compete. It actually made the job on my part quite intense, you could say. You have to pay attention to every detail, every bit of history, every bit of a physical exam, take everything into account both from the competitive point of view of the athlete and the medical point of view. You have to determine if an athlete who has travelled hundreds or thousands of miles to compete can get the chance to compete with an injury, or if they need to be benched.”
This happened over and over again at the Games clinic. As a sports medicine doctor he’s been trained to deal with the athlete’s injury and the emotional duress that follows.
“A lot of times when I told an athlete who had a concussion or some serious injury that they’re now out of play, you can see the tears come out of their eyes,” said Dr. Salamati. “They were quite disappointed and heartbroken, but more often than not, they tell me they still want to be part of the team any way they can. It just goes to show you the mind of an athlete and how dedicated they are to their sport once they get involved in it.”
Large medical contingent at Games 'amazing to see'
Dr. Salamati was a member of his high school swim team and also enjoyed basketball and skiing. His interest in sports medicine grew during his undergrad years at UBC, where he studied kinesiology and biomechanics.
He received his medical degree from Ross University in Dominca in 2014. He completed his clinical work at Regina General Hospital and a two-year residency in family medicine in North Battleford, where his passion for sports medicine was supported by Dr. Aaron Prystupa and Dr. Janet Tootoosis. He was selected for the sole sports medicine fellowship position in Regina, training under Drs. Marty Heroux, Mike Nicholls and Jordan Buchko. He was the team doctor for the University of Regina Cougars men’s hockey team and was able to participate in the Saskatchewan Winter Games and a Skate Canada event in Regina.
“I’ve always liked athletic side of medicine,” he said. “When I started my kinesiology degree, I had the opportunity to work with sports doctors, exercise physiologists, and trainers, and wanted to be on the athletic side and treatment side of it. I wanted to improve athletes – help them get better than what they currently are so they can continue their careers.”
Dr. Salamati notes a family medicine resident learns certain concepts and approaches related to that field, but the fellowship in sports medicine adds a further competency – to consider the mental composition of an athlete. While he sees patients from all walks of life, some with chronic conditions or muscular issues, for example, athletes provide a unique challenge. They not only expect to be treated, but also expect physicians to get them back out onto the playing field, whatever it may be, as soon as possible.
“You can’t compare with anything else,” he said. “Your patient population is quite different than in many other fields. You have a patient population that is motivated to always do more, and it’s the physician’s job to decide at what point this is damaging to an athlete and at what point is this beneficial to an athlete.”
For the Swift Current Games, a large medical team comprised of ER physicians, family doctors, physiotherapists and other sports medicine doctors was assembled. “It was really amazing to see because everyone volunteered for this event, everyone took time out of their busy schedules,” said Dr. Salamati.
Why do they do it? Why should medical students consider sports medicine as an option in addition to all of the training they have to do already?
'This is the field to go into'
“My simple words are this is just like anything – it’s a passion,” he said. “If you have a passion for sports medicine, if you have a passion to be more hands-on, deal with an athletic population, be involved with a highly motivated patient population, learn more about muscular injuries as well as a vast array of other issues that involve sports medicine, and care for the athletes, this is the field to go into.”
The bonds formed are reward enough, Dr. Salamati says.
“You care for these athletes, and on the sidelines you cheer for them. I’ve never met an athlete who was unappreciative of the care they got, regardless if there was good news or bad news. When they have a doctor they trust and they have someone who’s caring for them medically, it becomes a bond, and it’s very rewarding.”
(Photos from top: Dr. Babak Salamati in Swift Current for the Western Canada Summer Games in August; Dr. Salamati with Dr. Aaron Prystupa at a UFC fight)