What can a surgeon learn from NASCAR drivers?


At first, Peter Waters, MD, was a bit puzzled when he was asked to present at the 2014 Global Pediatric Innovation + Awards. Unlike some of his colleagues at Boston Children’s Hospital, Waters, the hospital’s orthopedic surgeon-in-chief, hadn’t developed an orthopedic widget or led groundbreaking scientific research. But his innovation could ultimately be even more important.

Waters has leveraged an unlikely partnership with the NASCAR racing team Hendrick Motorsports to inject new levels of safety and collaboration into pediatric orthopedic surgery departments across the United States.

Waters met Marshall Carlson, the president and chief operating officer of Hendrick Motorsports, several years ago, when he treated Carlson’s daughter. After learning about Carlson’s business success, Waters realized that surgeons could learn from drivers and pit crews. Both surgery and racing demand high performance and real results in a high-risk environment, he reasoned.

Hendrick Motorsports — which Waters described as the New England Patriots of NASCAR, due to its dominance in the sport — seemed to have some critical strategies that might be applied in the operating room. Waters and colleagues conducted video interviews with Hendrick drivers to uncover the secrets to its success. They learned that winning drivers:

  • practice and prepare all season long
  • adapt to new ideas and constantly change
  • focus on better team communication for better results
  • use data to inform decisions
  • collaborate for high performance
  • use judgment and patience to fight for wins

Waters has shared the video interviews at Pediatric Orthopedic Society of North America (POSNA) meetings and used them to motivate surgeons across the United States to collaborate on the POSNA Quality Safety Value Initiative.

Surgeons and sharing

Surgeons across the United States have integrated their safety efforts. “We learned to share strategies,” Waters said at the summit. “A surgical injury to a child anywhere is bad for every orthopedic surgeon [not just the one doing the surgery].”

The POSNA Quality Safety Value Initiative not only embraced unlikely partners, but also implemented best practices. “We started simple and focused on things like cast saw injuries, measured outcomes and implemented in a way that is amenable to surgeons,” Waters said. And that often is the formula for winning … whether the business is racing or surgery.

Peter Waters, MD, Orthopedic Surgeon-in-Chief at Boston Children’s Hospital, has teamed up with Marshall Carlson, the president and COO of Hendrick Motorsports, to bring the efficiency and teamwork of NASCAR pit crews to the operating room.