Lives… people… and stories! Each voice matters! A blog series where our storytellers share their version of the story. Take a seat, grab a drink, and enjoy the ride!
Dr Janesh Ganda, Sports Physician in Cape Town (South Africa), is our storyteller. Today’s topic? The path less travelled…my (short?) road in Sports and Exercise Medicine.
Who are you, and what are your hobbies?
I am a Sports Medicine physician interested in rugby medicine and endurance sports. My “athletic” background is that of a triathlete/duathlete, having competed as an age group athlete for South Africa at three world championships. This experience led me to sports medicine. I now consider myself a recreational athlete, trying to balance trail running, surfing, and dabbling in CrossFit.
How and when did you get to where you are now?
The sports and exercise medicine (SEM) pathway in South Africa is changing. Nowadays, it is recognised as a full speciality. The combination of studying for exams, gaining clinical experience, writing a thesis, and often working in areas not specific to SEM creates quite a demanding barrier to entry. However, with the change in the status of SEM, becoming a full specialty, this will hopefully evolve too.
I was fortunate enough to be given opportunities to practice clinical sports medicine with experts in the field. For example, I have worked with multiple professional rugby teams in the last six years. These include the Boland Cavaliers, Western Province Rugby, Springbok Women, South Africa Schools and the Junior Springboks.
I was also included as a team doctor for South African Sports Confederation and Olympic Committee and was selected to tour for the Region V Games in Lesotho (2020) and Commonwealth Games in Birmingham (2022).
Earlier this year, I was appointed as the team physician for the Springbok Sevens.
When you started, did you expect to get to where you are now?
No. One of the biggest goals of working in SEM is to work in a high-performance team with professional athletes. However, there are minimal opportunities in this setting, and we often need to start our careers in a community-based or semi-professional setting. I have been very fortunate to have worked with multiple professional teams from U-18 to senior-level athletes at various levels and in different sports from the beginning of my professional career. It was a steep learning curve; however, having mentors in the field to guide me through made this possible.
What were the (a) hardest struggles and (b) biggest highlights during this path? How did you prepare for this?
- A major struggle relates to the current format of the SEM field in South Africa. This includes a masters programme by course work and dissertation. The challenge of trying to complete this programme in a part-time fashion while also growing your clinical skillset and working in jobs that are often outside the scope of SEM can make the initial years quite disheartening. Often, taking on a “traditional’ medical speciality, such as orthopaedics or internal medicine seems to be a less taxing option, but the key is to persist as opportunities often present themselves.
- The biggest highlight was being allowed to work with numerous national rugby teams of different age groups and genders. This allowed me to broaden my scope of expertise as often there are slight nuances in managing an 18-year-old rugby player compared to a senior player (>20 years old). The same can be said for athletes of differing genders with regards to adaptive mechanisms, techniques, and types/rates of injuries.
A single highlight thus far was to be appointed as the team doctor to the Springbok Sevens team that won gold at the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham.
Based on your own story, what is the top advice to inspire others?
A major lesson from my story is that one should always be willing to take up opportunities as they present themselves. The opportunity does not need to lead to an outcome. The experience in the opportunity is more important.
“The infinite game is the game we play to play, not to win. The infinite game is a game of catch in the backyard with your four-year-old son. You’re not trying to win catch; you’re simply playing catch. The most important parts of our lives are games that we can’t imagine winning.” Seth Godin, The Practice
Let us know what your next professional step is…
My career is running on two differing, yet parallel paths.
From the viewpoint of a clinical medical practitioner, I am enjoying the environment I am in now and need to be wary to not getting caught in the “what’s next” mindset. I appreciate where I am, taking care of professional rugby players and seeing the recreational athletes at my private practice. There is always a desire to upskill, which is part of our constant development in an advancing field.
Academically, I would like to pursue my PhD. I would like to make a meaningful impact in advancing the field of SEM in South Africa, which is my motivation to pursue a PhD. The field of SEM in South Africa is quite confined to larger sporting federations that are either privately or publicly funded. Several athletes never make it to these levels due to lack of opportunities and injury or illness, which are unfortunately not diagnosed and/or appropriately managed. There are also stories of morbidity and, in some cases, mortality on sports fields due to policy which is not filtered down. Therefore, the idea is to change this and make SEM more accessible and allow policy to filter down to the grassroots level.