The Washington Nationals clinched their first World Series win on Oct. 31, and Robin West, MD, lead team physician, helped keep the team healthy all season. She also is the director of sports medicine and head team physician for the Washington Redskins, as well as president of Inova Musculoskeletal Service Line and chairman of Inova Sports Medicine. Dr. West is the only female serving as head team physician for both a professional football and baseball team.
In an interview with AAOS Now, she discussed the recent win and what it’s like working with professional sports teams. Dr. West also provided advice for women in medicine.
AAOS Now: How did it feel when the Nationals won the World Series?
Dr. West: I was elated—and relieved—after an arduous season with a fairytale ending!
What have the days following game seven been like?
We always call the post-season the “clean-up” time, when we are helping the players coordinate their off-season surgeries, treatment, and rehabilitation. On a personal note, instead of flying back and forth in between games to cover both teams, as well as my own practice, I am now able to finally get back to my normal routine of regular office hours, surgeries, training room, and game coverage for the Washington Redskins.
How does the pressure of being the lead team physician change throughout a season?
Being a lead team physician requires an incredible amount of commitment and passion for the well-being of the players. Depending on the sport, the pressure as the head team physician is variable. Obviously, compared to baseball, the intensity and speed of football games put a lot more pressure on the team physicians to make quick and safe decisions. Also, the NFL preseason roster is almost twice the size of the regular season, so the workload and stress for the medical team can be tremendous during that early part of the season.
During playoffs in any sport, the pressure as the head team physician increases. Quicker decisions need to be made, as the stakes to win get higher. There is pressure from the players, coaches, and ownership to keep and get the players healthy as quickly as possible.
How does your care of players change during the playoffs?
Urgency regarding the diagnosis and treatment of the players is certainly enhanced during the playoffs due to the short playoff run—every day counts. The stakes to win are much higher. We need to be extremely diligent in making timely yet safe decisions with regard to return to play. If we allow players to return too quickly, they may wind up missing the entire post-season or further injuring themselves. We must have honest and open discussions regarding the injury severity and return-to-play timing with the general manager, manager, and entire medical team. Sometimes it is more beneficial to have someone 100 percent functional in game six versus 90 percent functional in game three—it all depends on the situation. Most importantly, we always need to provide the best care to athletes and not allow them to return to play in an unsafe manner. Winning is awesome, but the athlete’s health is always number one.
How were you able to manage the extended overlap with the Nationals’ and Redskins’ schedules?
I have a fabulous group of partners and clinical staff who help make it all possible. Teamwork makes the dream work! My partners and AAOS members Brandon Bryant, MD, FAAOS; Jeff Giuliani, MD, FAAOS; and Rob Najarian, MD, are an integral part of the medical teams for the Washington Nationals and Washington Redskins. If some of us are traveling with one team, the others are always willing to help by seeing our patients, doing a physical on a free agent, or covering a game or training room. None of it would be possible without each and every team member, including our medical assistants, nurses, athletic trainers, and business executives who work diligently to run an efficient sports medicine practice all while accommodating our patients’ schedules with the teams’ travel schedules.
How does it feel being the first female lead team physician to win the World Series?
I honestly never think about being the first female to do something. I have always taken pride in my work. I have been taking care of professional athletes for almost 20 years now and have been fortunate to be a physician for several successful teams that have gone on to world championships, including three Super Bowls and one World Series.
What advice would you give to females considering a career in sports?
Maintain your professionalism at all times with regard to your actions and appearance. The best way to gain experience is to have a mentor to shadow in the training room or on the sidelines. You can find this type of mentorship during residency or fellowship. You cannot just “walk” into a head team physician role at the professional level. To gain the required experience, start by covering high school and collegiate sports. Most professional teams require a Certificate of Added Qualifications in sports medicine (completion of a sports medicine fellowship accredited by the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education) and a minimum of five years of collegiate team physician experience.
Were there any specific barriers you had to overcome to achieve your success that perhaps your male colleagues didn’t face?
I would not specifically call them barriers, but there were certainly a few obstacles that none of my male colleagues had or will ever have to endure. One of them was being pregnant on the NFL sidelines and coming back to work a few days after giving birth to cover the training room and games. The other was transporting my breast pump with me to home and away games and having to “pump” in the training room. (There were no nearby women’s bathrooms or private rooms in the stadium at that time!)
Do you have tips for women covering male teams (e.g., locker room etiquette)?
As a woman covering male sports teams, you need to maintain your professionalism at all times. There will be a lot of locker room banter and nakedness, but by showing your competence, you will gain the respect of the players. I always remind my male and female colleagues that they are caregivers to these athletes. They are not the athletes’ best friends. You need to be cordial and confident when treating them.
Kerri Fitzgerald is the managing editor of AAOS Now. She can be reached at email@example.com.