Going Global: 2012 Olympics

Posted By: ekirkland | Date Posted: June 21, 2012, 12:51 PM

Dr. Erik Brand poses with the Olympic rings at the Vancouver Games in 2010

As a member of the 2012 London Olympic Medical Team, Erik Brand, MD will share an insider’s view of treating the world’s top athletes.


Every two years , the “youth of the world” assemble in the spirit of sportsmanship and competition giving the world unforgettable stories of perseverance and achievement. Athletes devote their whole lives training for a fleeting moment of glory. For those in the sports medicine world the games also serve as the pinnacle of the profession.

For Erik Brand, M.D., M.Sc., Sports Medicine Fellow for Harvard Medical School Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation at Spaulding, the upcoming Olympic Summer Games in London represent the culmination of a life long dream as well.

Dr. Brand was chosen to serve as a Sports Medicine Physician at the London 2012 Olympic Games. Dr. Brand was selected from among 250,000 volunteer applicants by the London Organizing Committee, host of the Olympic Games. Brand has a diverse background in sports medicine, both as an elite athlete himself as a rower at the University of Washington and the University of Oxford, as well as a physician. He also has significant international competition experience as observing team physician for the United States Rowing Team at the 2011 Junior World Championships. This will be his second Olympic experience; serving as a Transportation Services volunteer at the 2010 Winter Olympic Games in Vancouver.

“As a rower at the University of Washington and Oxford, I was fortunate enough to spend six years training alongside athletes and coaches of the highest caliber. As a Sports Medicine physician, this experience helps me relate to my patients because I speak their language and understand the demands of training and competition. Through Sports Medicine, I have an opportunity to express my belief in the value of sport and exercise and serve the Olympic ideal.”

During his residency at Johns Hopkins Hospital, Dr. Brand served as Chief Resident of Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation and trained under team physicians for the Baltimore Orioles. In 2011, he was selected for a Resident Scholarship Award from the American Medical Society for Sports Medicine, one of three resident awards chosen annually.

Currently based at Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital and Mass General Hospital as a Sports Medicine Fellow, Dr. Brand plans to pursue a career in Sports Medicine helping athletes of all descriptions use exercise as a form of medicine.

Lessons Learned (Thus Far) on my Olympic Odyssey

As a rower at University of Washington and Oxford, I was fortunate enough to train for six years alongside athletes and coaches of the highest caliber. Inspired by the single-minded dedication of my teammates in achieving their Olympic goals, I formulated my own plan to serve the Olympic Ideal. After 17 years of pursuing this plan as a rower-turned-doctor, I was recently selected from among 250,000 volunteer applications to serve the London Olympics as a Sports Medicine Physician. This blog contains some of my reflections and lessons learned in pursuit of my Olympic dream.

Post - Lesson #1: Get involved
At the Commonwealth Games in 2006, during a medical school elective, I learned that it doesn’t matter how you get involved, it just matters that you get involved.  I was working with Australian national team physicians and trainers at the Olympic Park Sports Medicine Centre and Victorian Institute of Sport. They invited me to observe, but I couldn’t get in the front door of the Games because I didn’t have accreditation. My Attending said, “Literally, you could have volunteered in the parking lot, and this would have given you the accreditation badge needed to observe me in Sports Medicine.” So, at the Vancouver Winter Olympics 2010, that’s what I did.


Post - Articles Up! 
Two articles that feature Dr. Erik Brand's Olympic journey have been published. First, Dr. Brand was interviewed in the American Medical Association's online publication  discussing his work behind the scenes keeping athletes around the world healthy throughout the Olympic games. He also discusses the challenges that come with working with athletes that compete at such a high level.

In the second article, published by Harvard Medical School,  Dr. Brand discusses how his background as a rower allows him to better relate to the patients he treats both at this year's Olympics and as Sports Medicine Fellow at the Spaulding and Massachusetts General Hospital.

Check back often to keep up to date with Dr. Brand's Olympic experience.


Post - Lesson #2: Apply early
In October 2009, with 4 months to go until the Vancouver Olympics, all the “good” volunteer spots were taken. So, I heeded my Australian Attending’s advice and volunteered for the only spot left: Transportation Services. But this turned out to be awesome. As planned, I got the accreditation badge, so I could observe one morning in the Athlete Village Polyclinic (my United States mentor was amazed I had made it past the tight security).

Transportation Services turned out to be great. Sure, it involved a week of 10-hour shifts on a freezing, wet mountain. But I got the full Olympic volunteer “Smurf” uniform, drove the families of athletes and escorted WADA (World Anti Doping Association) officials and athletes to the anti-doping tent, and collected 49 Olympic pins from 20 different countries. The hardest pin to get was Liechtenstein, probably because it only has 35,000 citizens, so Olympic athletes are few and far between. The feeling of international camaraderie at the Olympics was electric. It was as if Whistler had been transformed into a world village.

I made the most of my experience by writing an expert commentary on brain injury in winter athletes for the American College of Sports Medicine. I also assisted a writer for the Washington Post on an article about winter sports injury, and presented a poster on spinal cord injury in an Olympic bobsled athlete at the American Medical Society for Sports Medicine. As a result of my work at the Whistler Sliding Center, I was subsequently invited to be the Medical Director for World Cup Bobsled the following year.  I couldn’t accept the invitation as a resident with no independent medical license, but it was exciting to be asked!


Post - Lesson #3: Be persistent

In October 2010, I applied 21 months in advance for the London 2012 Olympics. But, as it turned out, this would barely be enough. I contacted the London Organizing Committee of the Olympic Games (LOCOG), who informed me I would need a full United Kingdom medical license in order to volunteer. The options included a series of board examinations (equivalent to re-taking all the United States Medical Licensing Exam (USMLE) steps in a foreign language, in a system in which I never trained), or the equivalency route, by which you make a case that PM&R training in the United States is equivalent to Rehabilitation Medicine training in the United Kingdom.

Post - More Articles Popping up!

Dr. Erik Brand's experience, and his work beyond the Olympics preparing athletes for the 2012 Paralympics has now been posted on the Charlestown Patch. Read about how Dr. Brand got to London and how he plans to impact the future of sports medicine.

Post - Post #4: Count your blessings (even when they come in disguise)

In late July, days before my fellowship was to begin, I received an email from a coach of the USA Crew Team. They needed a last-minute Team Physician, and knew I was a rower, and an aspiring sports physician.

My Fellowship Director at Spaulding was willing to let me go on short notice. After all, the whole purpose of my fellowship was to prepare me for such opportunities.

I still wanted to participate in Junior Worlds in London. So I took a week of vacation and went as an observing team physician. This worked out great. I shadowed the team physician, helped the USA rowers, and got all the medical experience without the pressure of my first independent team coverage being a world championship! .

Junior Worlds in London was also a test event for the Olympics, so I met all the Olympic medical staff including the Chief Medical Officer. Due to my demonstrated commitment, he was gracious enough to conduct the interview for my Olympic volunteer application from ten months previous.

 Six months after the interview, I was accepted to the Olympics!

Post - Post #5 - The Wrap Up
My most exciting moments:
1)     Being asked to cover the USA Crew at Junior Worlds
2)     Receiving an email in February from the London Organizing Committee telling me: Congratulations! Out of 250,000 volunteer applications, I had been accepted to serve on the Medical Team for the London Olympic Games!

My biggest challenges:
1)     After my second UK medical licensing attempt, being told that they needed an additional 500 pages of re-validated or new documents within one week.
2)     Asking Elyse Lomonaco our residency coordinator at Spaulding as well as various employers and administrators from four states and 3 continents to validate >1000 pages of my license application!

I am most thankful for:
1)     The mentorship of my Attendings and support of my friends, family and the Harvard/Spaulding community.


Spaulding is a remarkable pace with remarkable people and remarkable techniques. The program helped me in so many ways.

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