Footy, fighting, and career flexibility
Dr Naomi Harris
IF PEOPLE ever ask if Dr Naomi Harris has children she will smile and say, ‘I’ve got 45 of them!’
As a team doctor with Port Melbourne Victorian Football League (VFL) team, and previous team doctor for the Werribee VFL team, Naomi refers to the players as ‘her boys’.
“I’ve watched my boys go from being dopey 18-year-olds to professionals; they’ve finished their university degrees or they’ve gone from being the apprentice to being the site manager. Some are even now playing AFL” Naomi says.
While Naomi’s role in the club is to primarily provide care for sport-
related injuries, the care she provides is holistic, often seeing many of the players and staff members at her clinic in Glen Iris, Melbourne.
“Often, in general practice especially, we complain that men are useless at going to the doctor....the male staff members are comfortable around me because I’m at the footy club and they come and see me as their GP and they start to look after themselves.”
Tough love is one of the hallmarks of sports medicine.
“I have to try to convince [the players] that an injury really is not as bad as they think it is...a lot of them get a bit scared that they’re not going to get a game or they’re going to get dropped if they get an injury. By having a closer relationship with them, I can be there for them.”
Despite having the experience and contacts in sports medicine, as well as a Masters of Sports Medicine, Naomi isn’t planning on leaving general practice behind any time soon.
“[The Australasian College of Sports Physicians] tried to convince me to leave general practice behind and do my sports physician training, but I said, ‘no’...I just really like my general practice as well.”
A combat physician
Naomi was asked to travel to New Zealand as part of her work as a combat physician with the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC).
“Never in a million years did I think I would be working as a combat physician,” says Naomi.
While there is no formal qualification to be a combat physician, a doctor has to show that they have the skills to manage the common injuries seen in a UFC match—concussion, lacerations, facial fractures and broken bones, especially in the hands and feet.
According to Naomi, the UFC is misunderstood by many.
“I certainly don’t condone violence...I think a lot of people don’t actually understand the levels we go to to make it as safe as possible.”
“The UFC is a sport that is controlled and there are professionals fighting in the presence of multiple medical professionals...serious injuries do not occur often because the athletes are trained to fight.”
There are seven medical professionals on-hand at each fight, each with a distinct and important role; Naomi is responsible for the post-fight check after a handover from the doctor working cage-side.
For Naomi, being a combat physician is like running a mini emergency department.
“The bleeding can look horrific and sometimes I think, ‘Oh, my God, what have they done?’ And then we get them out the back and see that because it is a cut on their head it bleeds a lot.”
“You wipe it down and clean it up and it only needs three stitches. I can understand why some people can’t watch it.”
The pre-fight check-ups are another enjoyable aspect to the role; Naomi has formed bonds with some of the athletes.
“I’m not just doing this for fun. I’m putting the athletes first, and if it means delaying a match, then it gets delayed.