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Institute of Biomedical Ethics and History of Medicine (IBME)

Dissertation Roman Gähwiler

«What Doping has Taught us - Re-Defining the Role of Physicians in Sports Medicine»


I started my PhD thesis in Biomedical Ethics and History of Medicine at the University of Zurich about a decade ago as a medical student. Since graduating from medical school, I have been working on an ongoing basis as a sports physician (full- and part-time) in male and female leisure and elite sports on both a national and international level. Admittedly, I have never been employed by a club on a full-time basis. Initially, my intrinsic motivation in applying for this PhD was “to be prepared” for the discussions and incentives in reference to doping in sports which I was sure would come. Therefore, the basic principle during these years has always been “the will to prepare is vital”. Consequently, the evolution of this PhD thesis is very closely related to my personal experiences and thoughts on my path to becoming a Swiss Board Certified Sports Physician in 2020. Over the last two years, sports medical practice, in the face of to the COVID-19 pandemic, has further shaped my personal attitude towards sports medicine, doping, and the physician’s role.
The table of contents of this thesis (see page 1) to a great extent reflects the timeline of my education and as such answers the “research” question “what the role of the physician might be with regard to doping”, as well as within a sports medical framework in exercise medicine, leisure sports, and high-performance professional sports. The reader will be introduced to the “physician’s role in sports medicine and doping” in a step-by-step approach. Initially, the playing field will be defined by reflecting on the past, followed by current epidemiological facts on doping in sports. Furthermore, the rules of the game will be determined by portraying the ethics of doping in sports, and outlining the toolbox of bioethical theories which could be used by medical professionals in sports medicine. With the knowledge of the playing field, as well as the rules of the game the author will define challenging constellations within a sports medical framework which might help to shape the role of the physician when it comes to doping. Finally, the thesis will be rounded off by identifying future challenges to the physician’s role in sports medicine, for example gene doping and transgender athletes.