A Formula One doctor

Authors: Kelly Brendel 

Publication date:  12 Apr 2012

Barry Schyma describes how to add trackside care to regular medicine

Barry Schyma graduated in medicine from the University of Dundee in 2006 and has a degree in biomedical science (physiology) from the University of Aberdeen.

After graduation, he rotated as a house officer at the Singapore General Hospital, where he became interested in managing polytrauma patients. He returned to the United Kingdom to complete the foundation programme and did a rotation in intensive care, which led him to specialty training in anaesthesia and critical care. He has been working as an anaesthetic registrar at the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh since 2007.

Schyma began working in motorsport in 2008 as a medical officer at the Knockhill race circuit in Scotland. He joined the Singapore Formula One Grand Prix medical team in 2009 and accepted the position of medical extrication team leader in 2010. In 2010 he also joined the British Formula One Grand Prix’s medical team at Silverstone. His portfolio in race trauma support also includes the Scottish rally, and he held the role of chief medical officer at the Ingliston sprint series in 2010.

What are the skills you need for working in motorsport medicine?

You must be able to think methodically in a stressful situation. There’s a lot happening around you quickly, and you must have a structured and logical approach. People skills are everything. You’re working around highly skilled marshals and other rescue crews who are not involved in hospital medicine but are all involved in the management of your casualty. They don’t necessarily act in the same way as a nurse would in a hospital, so you’ve got to be able to integrate with them in an extreme situation.

Also, you need an interest in the sport. You’re probably not going to make a great amount of money out of it [motorsport medicine], and you can have long days where you can be out on the track for 12 to 13 hours and nothing happens. Accidents happen all the time, depending on how you classify an accident, but most don’t require any medical intervention. Then you’ve got the best seat in the house for watching the race.

How can doctors become involved in motorsport medicine?

I would recommend three courses to begin with: the ATLS (advanced trauma life support), the PHTLS (pre-hospital trauma life support), and also BASICS (British Association of Immediate Care). From there you should have [developed] the skills to go along to your local circuit and get involved with the members of the medical team there, who will train you and show you how to behave on a race track. Your involvement can be at various levels, depending on how interested you are, how much you want to do, and how lucky you get in terms of what opportunities arise. But when these opportunities arise you need to have the right skill set and experience that mean you can take them.

How large can the teams be that you’re working with?

It all depends on the size of the event, the number of cars, and the degree of danger. If you come to a local event the team can be a couple of doctors, six members of a rescue team, plus 10 or 20 marshals, but there are hundreds involved in a Formula One event, and I’m a small piece within that. Some of the tracks are miles long, so it takes a lot of people to cover that area; other tracks are much shorter so you don’t need as many people.

What is the continuity of care like?

It depends on which level you’re working at, as, if you’re doing a Formula One race, the medical team is massive and everybody has a particular role. For example, in Singapore I’m team leader of one of the extrication units, so our role would be management trackside and our remit would finish when the patient gets to the medical centre or is transferred to a trauma centre. With any race, the circuit’s always well equipped. There’s an operating theatre in the middle of Silverstone so you can manage major trauma. A dedicated trauma hospital will also be on call for the event. That’s not too dissimilar from the local events; although the numbers are much smaller, there will be arrangements with a hospital that will be aware it could receive trauma casualties.

Motorsport can be a dangerous sport for its drivers. Are you ever at risk yourself?

There is risk, but there are many people making sure that it’s safe for everybody who’s working there. The scene could be on fire, or there could be cars that are passing, so the medics aren’t allowed on to the circuit until the scene is made safe, which can be frustrating because you may have a casualty that you can’t get to even though you can see him.

How do you balance your regular NHS commitments with your work in motorsport?

It can be difficult. One of the easy things is that most of the work happens at the weekend so it doesn’t mean that much time away from your clinical commitments; it’s all about arranging when you’re on call. The overseas races are trickier. I cover most of it with annual leave. I’ve had some struggles in terms of balancing it all, but you do as many events as you want to, and then it’s just a case of how you can fit that around your NHS schedule and anything else you might want to do with your life.

What advice would you give to those hoping to get involved in motorsport medicine?

Don’t dismiss it as a fantasy. There are a lot of people who think it’s inaccessible, but that’s not the case. It’s something that you can get into from about junior doctor level and then grow to become more proficient. The two specialties that directly provide an applicable skill set are anaesthesia and emergency medicine, but there’s a role for people from all specialties at all levels. It’s about getting involved and gaining experience. The pre-hospital environment is different from that of a hospital, and the more experience you get in that area the better. Don’t get frustrated; just enjoy the racing and the experiences you get from it.

Competing interests: None declared.

From the Student BMJ.

Kelly Brendel editorial intern, BMJ

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