Trying hard: how I tackle my career as a professional rugby player and working as a pharmacist

As a professional rugby player and pharmacist, Ross Wardle fields questions from his colleagues about doping and is concerned about long-term health problems associated with the sport.

Ross Wardle of Newport Gwent Dragons is tackled by Ulrich Beyers of Zebre

Ross Wardle is a locum community pharmacist and plays professional rugby union for the Newport Gwent Dragons in Wales.

How did your career in pharmacy come about?

I have always been interested in anatomy and physiology and am amazed by the way that the body works. I researched possible careers during my first year of college and jobs within pharmacy and pharmaceuticals caught my eye.

I qualified in 2015 and have been practising part time as a locum pharmacist since then. In the final year of my degree, I also started my full-time career as a professional rugby player.

How did your career as a professional rugby player come about?

During college, I played semi-professional rugby league and was part of the Welsh rugby league squad. While I was in my final year of college, I was offered a full-time professional contract with Celtic Crusaders, which would have meant moving to north Wales to play. When I received my exam results and realised that I had got a place at a pharmacy school, I made the tough decision to turn down the contract and go to university to ensure that I had a long-term career in place.

While at university, I was approached to play rugby union for the university team. During the first few matches, I was noticed by an external coach and offered a semi-professional contract to play alongside my studies.

During my final year I was approached by my current club, Newport Gwent Dragons, which offered me a full-time professional contract. Both my university and the club agreed that I could play rugby for the club and study for my final year. This meant the university had to be a little more lenient with my attendance and the rugby club had to enable me to miss training when necessary.

At the end of my degree I was faced with another dilemma. I knew that my preregistration training had to be completed within four years for me to become a pharmacist but I could not work two full-time jobs. A local pharmacy, Woodville Road pharmacy, set up a framework to enable me to complete my training on a part time basis — 18 hours per week over two years.

What is the highlight of your career to date?

The highlight of my pharmacy career was passing my registration assessment and working my first shift as a pharmacist. Although it was only the start of my career, this was difficult because I had to do it alongside a full-time rugby career. Working for 18 hours per week on top of a full-time job was tough and tiring because of the physical nature of rugby.

During my preregistration training, I had to get up at 5.30am to study, leave for rugby training at 8am, finish rugby at 3pm, go straight to work in the pharmacy until 6pm and then go home and revise for the assessment again. This was gruelling and, at times, I thought it was going to be unachievable.

The highlights of my rugby career are scoring on my professional debut against Bath and receiving Man of the Match honours after scoring the winning try against Munster on my home debut.

Do any of your colleagues ask you for advice about nutritional supplements or drug use in professional sport?

Our strength and conditioning coaches or our nutritionists give us a lot of advice about nutritional supplements but this is not the case for drugs. As rugby players we are subject to random drug tests, both urine and blood, which occur whenever the drug testers see fit.

Many more drugs are prohibited in sport than most people realise. Simple drugs such as cold, flu and cough medicines could lead to a failed drugs test and a long ban from the sport. This means that some players are not fully aware of what they can and cannot take and therefore they ask me what they can use if they have certain symptoms. Players also ask for advice on symptoms and medicines for their children or partners.

We have a club doctor who is available for more in-depth questions and examinations. Players often come to me after seeing him to ask what the prescribed medicine is for, how it works or how to take it.

Were you ever concerned about the health risks associated with a contact sport?

There are a lot of concerns about concussion in rugby at the moment, with many players retiring early from the sport due to related long-term problems. Within the past year, two of my friends from the team have retired following concussion and it is normal for at least one team member to sustain a concussion in almost every match. This is worrying and makes me think about the long-term effects the game has on our bodies and minds.

I also have concerns about other injuries. I am 25 years old and have had two anterior cruciate ligament reconstructions (both knees) and two shoulder stabilisations. It is normal for each team to have many injured players undergoing surgery at any given time.

The reason for these injuries is the development in size, strength, speed and power of players. The average weight of players in a rugby match now is around five stone heavier than it was 20 years ago. Because players are bigger and stronger and are running into each other much faster, the collisions are increasing in power and causing damage to parts of the body that are not supposed to endure that level of impact.

What are your career plans for the future?

My contract with my current club runs out at the end of the season and I am not sure what the future holds for me. I am being encouraged to continue with rugby by my colleagues but there is only a certain amount of punishment that the body can take. Rugby careers do not last forever so, having had four operations within three years, I am leaning towards a job within pharmacy or pharmaceuticals.

I would like to find a job where I can use all of my skills from both rugby and pharmacy as well as my scientific knowledge. I am researching different career paths at the moment and am keen to find out about available options. I have friends who are medical and pharmaceutical reps and this type of work might suit me well too. I have until my contract runs out in June 2017 to decide.

  • Ross Wardle announced on 11 November 2016 that he is leaving the Newport Gwent Dragons owing to injury.
Last updated
The Pharmaceutical Journal, PJ, December 2016, Vol 297, No 7896;297(7896):DOI:10.1211/PJ.2016.20201901

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