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Former Olympian Trades Shot-Put for Physiatry


Watch the full interview.

KUSA - Dr. Deborah Saint-Phard is a member of a very exclusive club, though she doesn't try to make a big deal out of it. This University Hospital expert in physical medicine and rehab can lay claim to having had a turn at Olympic glory.

Dr. Saint-Phard represented Haiti in the shot-put at the 1988 Olympics in Seoul. She still has her entry bib, custom-made jacket, participation medal and album of photos to show for it. And while she didn't end up on the podium, her Olympic experience set her on a career path that has been just as rewarding.

Dr. Saint-Phard is a physiatrist or rehabilitation physician. On 9NEWS at noon, she explained that physiatrists are medical doctors who have completed training in the medical specialty of physical medicine and rehabilitation.

She said the job of a rehabilitation physician is to treat any disability resulting from disease or injury, from sore shoulders to spinal cord injuries. She explained the focus is on the development of a comprehensive program for putting the pieces of a person's life back together after injury or disease, without surgery.

There are parallels to the work she does, to the work done by experts in Olympic sports medicine. At the 2012 Summer Olympics, about 80 medical personnel are working in the background to help the athletes fulfill their dreams.

In the case of the U.S. Olympians, physicians from around the country are volunteering their time. To do so, they must be willing to leave their practices for weeks at a time, to work long shifts under grueling, high-stakes conditions for little or no pay.

Physicians working the games say it's all worth it for the chance to be part of a global event and work with some of the world's most elite athletes.

Competition to become a team physician is tight. Some of the volunteer doctors have been working seven years to have the privilege to serve. And just like Olympians, they have to earn a slot. Most team physicians start by working with a particular sport. They volunteer at one of the country's three Olympic training centers, then work domestic competitions and move up to international competitions, such as the World Championships or Pan American Games.

Many Team USA doctors arrived in London in mid-July and won't be done until mid-August. They say they're planning on a lot of 16-hour-plus days, a lot of on-call work, and a lot of sleep once the games are said and done.

(KUSA-TV © 2012 Multimedia Holdings Corporation)