Cal doctor to oversee U.S. Olympic team’s medical staff

Soon on her way to London as chief medical officer for the U.S. team at the 2012 Summer Olympics is Dr. Cindy Chang, who served as head team physician for Cal Athletics from 1995-2008. Chang, currently a family medicine/sports medicine specialist on campus at University Health Services and a volunteer team physician for Cal Athletics, recently talked about the excitement and challenges of her upcoming role.

Q: How did you get the job?

Dr. Cindy Chang examines a Cal athlete at the Sports Medicine Specialty Clinic at University Health Services. (UHS photo)

A: I have been working with our USA athletes since 1996, when I spent two weeks at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs. Most recently, I was chief medical officer in Beijing in 2008 for the Paralympic Games, a major international competition for physically disabled athletes. There were some challenges there, and I must have done OK in my role, because I got the phone call asking me to serve as CMO in London! I was excited and honored, but knew it would be a huge time commitment, so I didn’t accept right away. The biggest reason I resigned as Cal’s head team physician four years ago was to spend more time with my kids, so they definitely had to give me the thumbs up. And after they did, we all celebrated.

Q: What does a chief medical officer at the Olympics do?

A: I will be supervising and coordinating coverage of the U.S. Olympic team’s medical staff, comprised of medical and orthopedic sports medicine physicians, chiropractors, athletic trainers, physical therapists and massage therapists — 80 in all. And there’s more, including being on call.

I’ve already conducted extensive pre-competition planning, which included a trip to London to meet the London Organizing Committee of the Olympic Games’ medical team and to tour the medical facilities and hospitals. I reviewed the selected medical staff and assisted them in getting licensed to practice in the UK during the course of the Games. Once in London — I leave July 10, the opening ceremonies are July 27 — I will unpack everything that Sports Medicine shipped from Colorado Springs to London, including a formulary of medications and medical supplies and equipment, and set up our USA Sports Medicine Clinic within our section of housing in the Olympic Village.

Q: Looking back, what prepared you for this role?

A: I’ve practiced sports medicine now for 20 years, starting as a team physician at my alma mater, The Ohio State University, and then as the head team physician at Cal. Both programs have a rich diversity of sports, from fencing and shooting to rugby and water polo. Oh, and of course, awesome football programs — by the way, Cal plays OSU Sept. 15! My incredible experiences working with our country’s Paralympians at international sporting events also have prepared me for this role. Because of my training as a family physician and as a sports medicine physician, I have treated many different injuries and illnesses. I haven’t seen everything, but the most important thing is to recognize what I don’t know and turn to the rest of my team for assistance. I have stressed this very important point with my medical staff in London as well.

Q: What are you looking forward to the most at the Games?

A: Working with sports medicine colleagues from across the country and sharing and learning “best practices” — these are things I can bring back to UC Berkeley after the Games and apply to my patients. And, of course, I am looking forward to helping our U.S. athletes perform their very best in London.

Dr. Chang was chief medical officer in Rio de Janiero for the 2007 Parapan American Games, where volleyball player Brad Johnson (pictured) competed and was a flag bearer. (Cindy Chang photo)

Q: And what’s your biggest fear?

A: One of my roles is to be the spokesperson for medical matters, which may mean that I am quoted in the newspaper or interviewed on TV. An example would be if one of our athletes suffers an injury and can’t compete. I really hope that I am not seen nor heard at these Games. Let the athletes be in the spotlight — they are deserving of the attention.

Q: While you’re in London, will you be able to visit with any UC Berkeley student-athletes or alumni competing in the Olympics?

A: There will be many Golden Bears competing in London, and I hope that they and some Cal alums that I haven’t seen for years will come by and visit me in the USA Sports Medicine Clinic — but not because of an injury or illness.

I will be staying in the Olympic Village, where the majority of our U.S. athletes will be living. Only a few of the U.S. teams, like basketball and beach volleyball, are staying outside the village. I will be pretty busy, and while I won’t have time for sightseeing, I am hoping to at least have dinner with my husband and two children while they are in London for a week during the Olympics. And while I will be wearing our official Olympic clothing while covering USA sporting events and practices (yes, I must occasionally wear red), I will definitely sport blue and gold gear in our sports medicine clinic and to cheer on the Bears!