In his quality of Associate Editor to BMJ Open SEM, Dr Tej Pandya was invited to present his perspective on Sport & Exercise Medicine (SEM) in his home country, the United Kingdom (UK).
Tell us more about yourself
I am currently a junior doctor in Manchester. Since I was a medical student, I have been interested in SEM and heard a talk from Gary O’Driscoll (the Arsenal FC doctor). Since then, I have experienced a variety of clinics, research institutes and conferences across the UK.
What is the path to become a sport and exercise physician in the UK, and what are the main hurdles on this path?
Traditionally, the route to becoming a sports and exercise doctor in the UK was by gaining experience or qualifying in one speciality (e.g. Emergency Medicine, Rheumatology, Orthopaedics, General Practice) and then working in a sporting/MSK environment alongside clinic and hospital employment. However, over the last twenty years, in preparation for the London 2012 Olympics, a training pathway was created which can be entered into five years after graduation, which allows you to qualify as an SEM consultant, funded by the public sector (NHS; National Health Service). This training pathway, at present, can be entered through initial training in a broad range of specialities, such as primary care, internal medicine, or anaesthesia.
Hurdles at present include both low numbers of training places and low numbers of consultant jobs within the NHS. However, as more evidence emerges on the burden of non-communicable diseases and the benefit of SEM specialists, I am hopeful for increased numbers within the public sector.
How developed is collaborative work in SEM in the UK?
Within the NHS, military, and professional sports environment, some large centres contain many multidisciplinary professionals, including SEM physicians, physiotherapists, physiologists, and strength/conditioning staff. Within the NHS, funding is devolved to each area in the country, and it is up to commissioners in the region to allocate resources. Partnerships also occur between sporting organisations and their local university.
Are exercise physiologists/scientists integrated into your healthcare system, and does health insurance cover their services?
Several exercise physiologists work in services such as respiratory medicine and cardiac rehabilitation in the public sector. A minority of the UK population have private health insurance, and some health insurance policies may cover these services but maybe dependent on the provider.
What is done in the UK to promote SEM among students and young professionals regarding research and clinical opportunities?
National organisations have supported undergraduate education in the UK, the Faculty of Sports and Exercise Medicine (FSEM) and the British Association of Sport & Exercise Medicine (BASEM). A student/young professionals society is known as USEMS (Undergraduate Sports and Exercise Medicine Society) also collaborates with this organisation and undergraduate university societies to provide opportunities for students. Successful partnerships have led to talks, conferences, poster competitions and links with international colleagues.
Finally, if you were Harry Potter, what would you change to SEM in the UK?
Greater recognition within the NHS by non-SEM colleagues as well as more funding into research. The COVID pandemic has exposed the risks of an inactive society and brought attention to the crucial role that exercise plays within society, so now is the time to act to make meaningful changes for the future. Help should always be available to those who ask for it!