• Thu. Jun 8th, 2023

University of Georgia Athletics


May 26, 2023

By John Frierson
Staff Writer

A different kind of practice was happening inside the Payne Indoor Athletic Facility on Thursday. Instead of football players running routes or working on their blocking technique, paramedics were training to get better at dealing with sports-related emergency medical situations.

An all-day event put on by UGA Sports Medicine and the Regional Trauma Advisory Committee of the Georgia Trauma Commission, the 2023 RTAC Sports Medicine Conference featured 165 attendees and 10 different speakers. Front and center throughout, from delivering the opening remarks to speaking on topics as wide-ranging as treating heatstroke and the management of spine injuries, was Ron Courson, Executive Associate Athletic Director and Georgia’s Director of Sports Medicine.

Courson said Region 10 of the RTAC asked him and longtime emergency medical technician (EMT) Glenn Henry, the former emergency medical services (EMS) program chair at Athens Technical College, to put together a training program for paramedics.

“A lot of EMTs and paramedics cover Friday night football games, and they have great training in emergency medicine, but sometimes they don’t have as much expertise in sports medicine,” Courson said. 

Along with lectures from numerous doctors, athletic trainers and other medical professionals, the course included on-field labs during which the attendees could get hands-on training in dealing with specific sports injuries and emergency situations.

Courson, who is also an EMT and has had to deal with all manner of injured athletes in his career, including those with neck and spinal injuries, said that it’s imperative that paramedics know how to best to assist athletes with potentially major injuries, particularly in football.

“Paramedics and EMTs may have great expertise in trauma situations and spine-boarding (putting the injured on back boards), but they may not have that much training in how to take football shoulder pads off. Or how take a helmet off in a spine emergency,” he said. “Not all helmets are the same, and not all pads are the same, so you have to know the different equipment and know the different nuances of how to take it off safely.”

Another element to the training involved dealing with those suffering from heatstroke, something that comes up across the country each summer, particularly during preseason practices at all levels of football.

“Heatstroke is a different thing. With EMS, you ordinarily want to get them to the hospital as quick as you can. But heatstroke is a different thing, where you want to cool the person and then transport them,” Courson said. “That’s the nice thing about the lab, you can have the lecture but then you can also demonstrate the best way to do things.”

A key element to paramedics and EMTs working with sports medicine staff and athletic trainers in emergency situations, Courson said, is communication. 

“I’ve been an EMT for 35 years, so it’s easier for me to talk to an EMT because I am one and I know their language,” he said. “The more I can cross-train my staff, and my goal is to have all of my staff be athletic trainers and emergency medical technicians; the more we can cross-train there, it makes us better, but it also helps with the information exchange.”

Ten years ago, Courson and his staff started what they called “the medical timeout” — it’s a practice that has been picked up across the country, he said, and in the NFL. Before every competition in every sport, Georgia’s sports medicine staff get together with the medical staff for the opposing team, along with the paramedics working the game, to have a 10-minute meeting to discuss each person’s role and where they will be located, where the equipment is located, and the location of the nearest hospital.

“Sports medicine teams are just like a (sports) team, you have to practice,” Courson said. “Everybody has a role. And the more you get athletic trainers and EMTs and paramedics and nurses together to talk about roles and responsibilities, it ultimately helps the patients.”

Assistant Sports Communications Director John Frierson is the staff writer for the UGA Athletic Association and curator of the ITA Men’s Tennis Hall of Fame. You can find his work at: Frierson Files. He’s also on Twitter: @FriersonFiles and @ITAHallofFame.

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