Pharmacist Collier provided care at U.S. Olympic swim trials

University of Nebraska Medical Center holds onsite health care clinic in early summer

Dean S. Collier, PharmD, BCPS (back row, second from right), with UNMC health care clinic colleagues

The University of Nebraska Medical Center (UNMC) held an onsite health care clinic during the 2016 U.S. Olympic Swim Team Trials in Omaha earlier this summer. Volunteer UNMC faculty, staff, and students were prepared to treat anything from an upset stomach to an upper respiratory infection to catastrophic trauma.

Though many of the volunteers had not worked together before, the health care team functioned very well in caring for the athletes, said Dean S. Collier, PharmD, BCPS, associate professor at the University of Nebraska College of Pharmacy.

“It was a wonderful opportunity to have so many health professionals in one place—pharmacists, physicians, nurses, athletic trainers, physical therapists—all working together.”

Collier was among the UNMC faculty working behind the scenes at the clinic.

“It was awe-inspiring to be able to watch hundreds of America’s top athletes warm up and practice their respective events,” said Collier. “It was even more thrilling to stand right next to an athlete known to be a gold medal–winning Olympian!”

But that excitement always had to be tempered with the responsibility of being the Olympian’s pharmacist, first and foremost.

Most of the athlete visits to the clinic were for general medical concerns, such as an aching ear, nasal congestion, musculoskeletal pain, or upper respiratory symptoms from allergies or infections. The services provided included readiness to retrieve, stabilize, and transport a seriously injured swimmer, diagnosis and prescriptive therapy for strep throat, or advice and a supply of acetaminophen for an uncomplicated headache.

Clinic volunteers had a number of OTC items available as a courtesy for the athletes and coaches—pain relievers, agents for upset stomachs, allergy relievers, and topical creams. They partnered with a nearby 24-hour Walgreens for provision of prescription items.

Preparation for serious accidents also was required because each swimmer was under tremendous stress to swim at the top of their ability. Collisions with the pool itself—or with other swimmers in the pool—were very real, though rare. Fortunately, only a few minor traumatic injuries occurred, Collier said.

One unique aspect of providing care for the athletes was concern about following the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency’s and World Anti-Doping Agency’s (WADA) guidelines. Athletes needed to avoid an extensive list of WADA-prohibited drugs and substances—or risk being disqualified from the event. Use of some substances, such as anabolic steroids, is recognized as an obvious attempt to gain a competitive edge.

Other substances present more of a problem for health care providers. While not banned, albuterol—an often-used therapy for asthma—comes with restrictions that, if not followed carefully, could disqualify an athlete from competition.

“We were very deliberate in checking against the WADA-prohibited list any substance we provided as a courtesy (acetaminophen) or as a prescription,” Collier said. “We certainly did not want to be the reason someone doesn’t get to represent our country in competition in Rio.”