Down in the Turks and Caicos Islands (TCI), you’ll find Dr. Joanna “Jo” Bowden pitch side at rugby sporting events to ensure player safety from a medical perspective.

Originally visiting the islands as a medical student 20 years ago, Jo has now lived in TCI for more than 12 years and is an ever present fixture in the TCI sporting community. While she’s not a rugby player, sports are engrained in her. Her mother, father and brother are PE teachers, having reached high level sporting achievements.

Sport has been a constant in Jo’s life, serving as captain and coach throughout her hockey and netball careers. Additionally, she also played a little soccer, and swam competitively. Jo currently serves as president to the Provo Netball Club, putting her best foot forward to re-energize the sport in TCI.

A rugby fan, Jo has fond memories of attending games back in England where she was raised. “As a student in Leicester, I loved going to watch the Tigers play and I also attended a Rugby school prior to university. My brother played and now coaches rugby.”

Her fondness for the sport opened the door for her participation in the local TCI leagues in addition to the International competitions. “It was natural that I get involved, initially standing on the side lines with the Match Doctor and Physio. I first supported an international match 10 years ago. From those years I have seen the union grow and we have hosted and played in a number of international matches steadily increasing our skill and abilities. More recently I finally completed my ICIR 2 course (not having easy access to these qualifications) and supported the RAN sevens as medical staff along with my team.”

After pursuing a career in Medicine, Jo started out working in a tertiary rheumatology unit in Leeds, as a Junior Doctor, under the tutelage of the eminent EULAR Chairman, Prof Emery. Departing the rheumatology unit, Jo sought work for a well-known Sports Physician, James Brown, and worked as a General Practitioner. Reflecting on her career, Jo remarked, “I am still wondering why I’m not a PE teacher! I found that some of my most enjoyable work is looking after sports injuries and helping people rehabilitate. I think my parents helped instill a competitive nature in me and a love of sport in general and so I am happy to give my time to TCI sports so they can take place with medical supervision. I work in the largest medical clinic in the the TCI and have helped grow this practice to provide excellent and comprehensive healthcare to our nation over different Islands and to a high standard.”

Combining her passion for sports with her medical knowledge Jo is well aware of the importance of player safety across all sporting bodies, particularly in the Caribbean Islands. “Coming from an emerging sporting nation it is important to react to the changes in the level of play. We are now competing at regional and international level and this rightly dictates a high level of medical supervision. Player welfare development has come a long way since my early days of rugby and it is now essential that we mitigate risk and place the player’s health at the forefront of the game. My recent experience of TCI hosting the RAN sevens in October 2021 and more recently away in the Bahamas cemented the importance of this. We were exposed to neck injuries, concussion protocols, skin injuries and heat illnesses. All of which were managed appropriately andwith player safety as the number one priority. We have seen the recent impact of COVID and how this affected contact sport in general. The positive impact of sharing information and guidance from World Rugby medical staff was very helpful.”

Looking towards the future Jo attributes current and upcoming player safety measures to advancements in the field of sports medicine. “From my early working days in MSK Clinics to now, my exposure to international level facilities and level of care, I can see that the world is moving quickly to maximize the ability, endurance and safety of athletes. You just have to look at the physical changes in elite rugby players to see how the game has changed.” While she embraces the change in medical precaution, Jo is aware that these changes pose certain challenges for smaller nations like TCI.

“The challenge for us will be to keep up with the necessary nutritional, physiological and rehabilitative support. This is in no small part a funding issue and I am hopeful that in the coming years, we can bridge the gaps to be competing on a more level playing field.”