Working life: Getting back on the horse

Published on: 17 Oct 2023

Dr Vivienne Tut describes a day in her life as a doctor for jockeys on a racecourse.

Dr Vivienne Tut

I get up and take the dog for a quick walk. I’m on a tight schedule this morning as I need to get ready for my shift as a medical officer at Newcastle Racecourse. 

I work around 80 racing events a year across Scotland, the North East and Yorkshire alongside being a part-time GP. There are usually a couple of racecourse medical officers at each event. We’re from different backgrounds, from general practice to cardiothoracic surgery, but as jockeys have serious injury risks, we’re all trained in pre-hospital care.

I arrive at the racecourse early. It’s Ladies Day, one of the busiest events in the calendar, and I know that if I leave it any later there will be queues. Once I let the clerk of the course know I’m here, I pick up the radios. As racecourse medical officers work closely with other doctors and paramedics, radios are essential for us to communicate.

I check if any jockeys need to be passed as fit to ride. When they’ve had time off from injury or illness, they need to be examined on the course before they can ride. The chief medical officer in London has already given them the green light, so this is just a formality. They also come to us for advice about minor health issues, as the nomadic nature of their work means they have little time to visit a GP.

Around an hour before the first race, all the medical team attend a team briefing, which is a bit like an MDT meeting. This is the most important part of the day, as it identifies any risks to the horses and jockeys. Risk factors vary from one event to another but can include everything from poor weather conditions to badly behaved horses. Today there is a very big crowd, so ensuring the track is accessible is a top priority, as is keeping attendees safe.

The doctors, paramedics and vets get into position for the first race, which starts at 2pm. Every racecourse is different, but the principles are the same: making sure that we have the correct medical personnel required for the race, so the jockeys are kept safe before, during and after racing. Either a doctor or paramedic should be with them at all times.

One doctor covers the parade ring and follows the last jockey down to the start in a car, meanwhile another doctor is at the start and makes sure the horses and jockeys are loaded safely into the stalls prior to the race. The jockeys are then followed by a convoy ready to respond within a minute if any falls or other incidents happen. 

Thankfully, it all goes smoothly. But I have seen horses rear or try to get out from under the stalls. They can sometimes be so unruly they have to be removed before the race starts. 
All the races have finished, and we now get to enjoy entertainment by singer Ronan Keating.

Back home, I’m not too tired. It has been an incident-free day, and unlike a day of general practice, I do not have decision fatigue. Both roles have their challenges, but I have always loved horses and medicine, so combining both is a dream come true.

Roles: Salaried GP
Location: Northumberland
Hours worked: Two sessions a week as a GP; 80 days a year as a racecourse medical officer.