Dr. Scott A. Rodeo, Sports Medicine Surgeon at Hospital for Special Surgery, is the head team physician for the Giants, a role he assumed in 2015 after having been associate team physician since 2000. Dr. Rodeo works closely with Ronnie Barnes, Vice President of Medical Services, in helping to organize and implement a comprehensive medical team. In this Q&A, Dr. Rodeo discusses balancing his work with the Giants and as the Team Physician for USA Swimming.
1. What is your official role with the New York Giants, and how long have you been in that position?
My title with the Giants is head team physician. I assumed that role in 2015, after having been associate team physician since 2000.
2. This was your third Olympics as Team Physician for USA Swimming. How did you get involved, and how difficult is it to balance your role with the Giants, USA Swimming as well as your sports medicine practice at HSS?
I became involved with USA swimming from having been a former competitive swimmer. We have organized a group of physicians, physical therapist, athletic trainers, chiropractors, massage therapists, nutritionists, sport psychology experts, and other sports science specialists around the country to help organize and provide care for our national swimming team. I became involved because I like working with athletes, and I wanted to give back to the sport.
Balancing these responsibilities with the Giants can sometimes be a bit challenging, but has been very do-able based on careful planning and organization. Another key factor is having a team to help you. This team approach is critical to provide the optimal level of care for the athletes, and to also ensure continued and appropriate availability of medical care at all times. For example, another physician helped to cover our Olympic swimmers in Rio due to overlap with Giants training camp.
3. What exactly does it mean to be the Team Physician for USA Swimming?
One of my overarching goals and responsibilities is to advise our national team coaches on methods to optimize our athletes health. This involves managing injuries and illnesses, but also planning injury prevention programs. In my role, I help to organize our medical care teams that travel with athletes to various competitions. We have a multi-disciplinary group, including physicians, athletic trainers, physical therapists, massage therapists, sports psychologists, nutritionists, etc. All are critical members of the medical care team, and one of my responsibilities is to help to organize this medical care team.
I also assist with planning medical care at the specific location where the team will be traveling. This involves considerations of pre-travel vaccines, arranging local medical contacts to be available to our athletes in the event of any emergency, reviewing athlete medical histories prior to travel, etc. Our USA swimming sports medicine group has an annual meeting where we discuss and present topics that are broadly relevant to injury and illness in swimming. Our group also has a robust sports science component, and one of the fun parts is the interaction and collaboration between the medical side and the sports science side.
4. What made you want to get involved in treating Olympic athletes in the first place?
I was a former competitive swimmer myself. My experience as an athlete as well as my passion for medicine lead to a natural career path in sports medicine and taking care of athletic injuries. It is very rewarding to work with athletes who are highly motivated and who make many sacrifices to focus on specific goals.
5. What's the most exciting part for you about treating Olympic athletes and watching them then go for a gold medal?
I find it very rewarding to help these athletes work toward their goals. They are highly motivated, and have often made many sacrifices to work toward their goal. A fun part is the team approach, where you have the coach, athletic trainer and/or therapist, the athlete, and the physician who are all working together to help the athletes to achieve their goals.
6. What are some of the differences between treating football players and swimmers? More or less challenging?
There are obviously differences in the types of injuries between football and swimming. In football we have more acute trauma type injuries, while in swimming there are more overuse type of injuries. A very unique part of working as a team physician is that you often can see the injury the day that it occurs (as in football), and then follow this athlete forward. Seeing how the symptoms evolve on a day-to-day basis, and following that athletes progress closely as they work with their trainers and therapists, provides a very unique perspective and is a tremendous educational tool. Ultimately, I really believe that working with athletes in this fashion has made me a better doctor.
7. What similarities do you see between pro football players and swimmers when it comes to questions/concerns they have for you about their health?
Although there are obvious differences in the types of injuries between football and swimming, at another level there are distinct similarities in taking care of high-level athletes. They all have similar concerns about how an injury or illness will impact their ability to train and to complete. Another important factor in our role as a team physician is to advise the athlete on long-term health implications of a specific injury, and these concerns are similar amongst all different types of athletes. For example, the football player needs to know how a certain knee injury may impact their risk of arthritis in the knee in the future, while a swimmer with overuse shoulder pain may have concerns about long-term injury to the rotator cuff tendons in the shoulder.
8. USA Swimming had a great showing in Rio this year. What was it like watching the games, knowing you've helped treat so many of the athletes that completed? Do you have a favorite Olympic moment overall since you first started?
It is fun and rewarding to have had any small part in the athletes successes. As far as a favorite Olympic moment, one could certainly pick out any of a number of great performances, such as many of Michael Phelps' amazing accomplishments. More than any individual event, I really like the relays, as this requires a team approach. The men's 4 x 100 freestyle relay in Beijing in 2008 stands out as a great memory, as the U.S. was a distinct underdog but won this relay based on phenomenal performances from all 4 team members. At another level, I would say that my favorite "Olympic moments" are really not one specific race but rather simply seeing an athlete be able to get back to doing what they love to do, training and competing, after a sports injury.