I’m constantly contacted by medical students and young doctors who wish to devote their lives and careers to Formula 1. They seek advice as to what the best path to follow to actualise that desire. Here in a nutshell is my answer.
First of all, I know almost no one in motorsports medicine for whom it is a full-time job.This includes some of the most well-known and important guys doing this. There are a number of reasons for this, including the weekend nature of the sport, the fact that to maintain any level of competency one needs constant clinical exposure, and the fact that very few (non corrupt) motorsport associations can afford to pay doctors a full-time salary for what is basically a hobby. A time-consuming, passionately engaging, and extremely serious and rewarding hobby to be sure, but a hobby nonetheless.
DO NOT ENTER THE FIELD OF MEDICINE BECAUSE YOU WANT TO BE A “F1 DOC”. Become a doctor because you want, need, cannot BUT, be a doctor. If what keeps you going, through the long grueling years of studying, through the 100 hour weeks, the emotional and physical hardships of training, is the ultimate goal of being in the front seat of the medical car, GET OUT NOW. Not just because of the extreme statistical unlikelihood that it will happen, but because the motivation needs to come from the day to day practice of medicine, not from what or where you want to be . . . years later.
In terms of the skill set you need to work in motorsports, pick the field of medicine you love. The one that fulfils you. The specialty that fits your personality. It doesnt matter if it’s dermatology, ob/gyn, anesthesia, emergency medicine, or endocrinology. Remember, you need to wake up every day and go to work. And if your first thought is “shit, another day in the clinic seeing diabetics” or some such negativity, you’re going to be miserable.
To be effective at a circuit, at a rally, drag strip, etc, you of course will need total mastery of the basics of trauma care. Taking and passing courses such as PHTLS, ATLS (or perhaps more usefully the European Trauma Course) is obligatory. And only then can you start to take these certificates and turn them into real, reflexively available, psychomotor skills. I know psychiatrists, dermatologists, etc, who are marvellous motosports docs – because they’ve taken the time to learn what they need.
Get involved with the sport you love early. Start hanging out at your local venue, whether it be a hill climb, rally, circuit … Get exposed to the work, the environment, the organisation. Start to meet and know the people, and to let them know you. It’s a pretty small world, and by the time you’re ready to get out there, you’ll have built up a circle of friends, mentors, and colleagues.
Work as much as you can. I remember when i first met Sid. I’d been a consultant anesthesiologist for years, but had been doing motorsports for only a few months. I remember he turned to me on the Sunday and said “you know old boy, in five or ten years, you’re going to have figured this thing out, and you might be pretty good”. I was, of course, shocked. But, of course, he was right. It takes a long time to figure things out. In every way. Be patient, keep your eyes and ears open. Find a mentor, and engrave everything he or she says in your memory. And be safe, right from the get-go. It’s a dangerous environment, and mistakes get paid for in cash. Protect your ears from the beginning. Thresholds are such that ANY exposure will immediately start killing your sensory cells. They don’t grow back, and you won’t notice it until it’s too late. I’ve been extremely careful since the beginning, and I’m the only person I know in any position with fully intact, audiogram-proven, hearing. Everybody else is well on their way to becoming functionally deaf.
If your personality, your medical orientation, and your needs point you to a more “acute” specialty, then the obvious constitute fantastic preparation for prehospital trauma care. Emergency Medicine and Anesthesiology – nothing like them to give you the knowledge, technical skills and reflexes necessary for immediate, life-saving decision making. Then go on and learn the principles of mass casualty management.
Hope this helps. Post your questions to the comments, and I’ll get to them as I can.