USUALLY the only time medicine and AFL mix is when a player is injured or unwell.
But Dr Courtney Lai manages to combine the two every week: weekdays he works as a hospital medical officer in orthopaedic surgery at Maroondah Hospital — but come the weekend he trades the stethoscope for white flags in his role as a goal umpire.
The 25 year old studied at Monash University and started his internship with Eastern Health in January 2011, working across a wide range of its hospitals and departments.
He started goal umpiring in 2003 after shoulder injuries cut his own playing career short. "I was never going to get to the AFL as a player, so this was as close as I was going to get," he says.
He was a goal umpire in the VFL before being promoted last year — he has now umpired 22 AFL matches. "I love it, you get to be close to the action."
The job involves training sessions twice a week from January until September, and appointments to games most weekends from late February until at least late August.
"Most people in the public might be surprised to know how much running and fitness we have to do. We have to be able to run five kilometres in less than 23½ minutes. Speed, agility and reading the play are the key ingredients of a good goal umpire."
He says watching players take great screamers close up and kicking incredible goals from the boundary lines were highlights.
"Juggling medicine and umpiring is challenging, but I've had exceptional support from Eastern Health and the AFL to enable me to do this. My junior medical colleagues have been very helpful in agreeing to swap shifts to let me get to training and more matches."
He spends about 10-15 hours a week umpiring, including training, and works about 50 hours a week — and says he enjoys both roles for different reasons.
"Goal umpiring is probably the more fun one but you study for a long time to be a doctor. I don't think there are many people who do both."
And what about the upcoming AFL grand final? Surely he must have a hot tip? But he stays tight-lipped. Remaining neutral is important for an umpire — Dr Lai insists he no longer barracks for an individual club or any particular players.