Working as a racecourse medical officer

Dr Victoria McCandless, a GP in County Armagh, Northern Ireland, explains what is involved in her role as a racecourse medical officer.

How did you become involved in racing and what led you to become a racecourse medical officer?

I have ridden horses since the age of eight and competed in many disciplines as well as having had the pleasure of owning my own horses. I have always had an interest in horse racing and was always a keen spectator.

When I qualified as a GP I contacted the manager of my local racecourse and asked how to become involved in medical cover for the racing - he put me in touch with the lead racecourse medical officer (RMO).

I joined the team and have been involved now for five years. Within that time I have progressed from being a RMO at Down Royal Racecourse to the turf club medical officer for Northern Ireland, which involves covering both Down Royal and Downpatrick Racecourses.

The Turf Club in Kildare now employ me as their medical officer for racing in Northern Ireland.

What does being a racecourse medical officer involve?

I cover on average 20 meetings a year between the two racecourses.

I am responsible for the safety and wellbeing of the jockeys and public attending the meetings.

There are three RMOs per meeting and we also have a team of individuals ranging from first aiders to paramedics. Obviously the emphasis is on pre-hospital emergency care and you could be faced with any problem ranging from a traumatic fall to a cardiac arrest within the public.

We follow the racing as a convoy of ambulances. It has been said the job of a jockey is the only job in the world where you have an ambulance following you.

Did you need to undertake any further training to take on this role?

To become an RMO you need to have completed a mandatory Immediate Care Trauma course and it is a statutory requirement that you attend this every three years.

It is also imperative that you have some experience in A&E and acute medicine. Individuals would also be expected to have completed an advanced life support course also if no trauma care course has been completed yet.

How do you balance this role with being a GP?

The race meetings tend to occur on bank holidays, evenings and weekends. I work seven sessions a week as a GP, therefore I can fit this in and around my everyday practice. Each race meeting lasts approximately four hours and there are seven races in each meeting.

What do you like about being a RMO?

I enjoy working as a RMO as it allows me to combine my interest and passion for horses with my clinical work as a doctor. It beats sitting in a stuffy surgery because you are out in the fresh air and it requires a degree of physical fitness and stamina.

I enjoy pre-hospital emergency care and I get a good mixture of trauma and acute medical/surgical cases at the meetings. The nature of the work enables me to keep my emergency skills up to date.

Do you have any advice for other GPs who might be interested in taking on this role?

I would contact your local racecourse management in the first instance if you are interested in becoming an RMO.

Attend a few race meetings as a spectator first then perhaps shadow an RMO before committing to the role as it is not for everyone. Some GPs may be unnerved at following 20 horses at 30 miles an hour with the potential for any one of the jockeys falling off. Also the fact you are covering a public crowd of thousands may be disconcerting to some GPs.

Why did you decide to become a GP?

I currently work as a salaried GP in the village of Moira, County Armagh. I decided to become a GP because I enjoy the diverse nature of the work with a good spread of knowledge required across the specialties.

I enjoy buliding up a rapport with my patients and the continuity of care that results. I have an interest in family planning, women’s health and paediatrics especially infant feeding problems.

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