The Washington Nationals revamped their approach to treating and rehabilitating injured athletes following the 2015 season, opening the door for a new, progressive team of sports medicine experts to join the club as its official medical team.
The Nationals’ overhaul of their medical staff led the club to Dr. Robin West, Chairman of Sports Medicine at Inova, who now serves as the team’s Lead Team Physician. Dr. West and the Inova Sports Medicine Team are a natural fit for the Nationals as the organization focuses on comprehensive care for its players — which is consistent with the approach Inova takes.
What are your day-to-day responsibilities with the Nationals organization?
As Lead Team Physician, there are three key elements that define my day-to-day responsibilities with the Nationals. The first is accessibility, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week and 365 days of the year. If the team needs me, I am available to evaluate injuries, order tests, organize specialists and activate the appropriate plan to get the athlete treated, healthy and back in the game. The second quality is affability. It’s very important that I get along well and work collaboratively with every member of the medical team. This ensures we’re all on the same page regarding each of our responsibilities and what the injured athlete needs to return to play as quickly and safely as possible. The last quality is ability. As the Lead Team Physician for any professional sports organization, you must have a high level of skill and expertise to ensure you’re treating any professional athlete with the absolute best care available.
Can you tell us about your experience and the career path you followed to get here?
It’s a long road to become a team physician. You have to go through high school, four years of college, four years of medical school, and then on to training. I’m an orthopedic surgeon so I did five years of orthopedic surgery residency, and one additional year of sports medicine specialty training at the University of Pittsburgh. To be a team physician for a professional team, you must be board-certified in orthopedic surgery as well as board-certified in sports medicine. After my training, I worked at UPMC for 12 years, where I served as a team physician for the University of Pittsburgh, Carnegie Mellon University and the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Point of Interest: Dr. West is one of only a few female lead team physicians in the sports medicine industry. Among her long list of accolades and experiences, Dr. West has two Super Bowl rings she keeps locked away safely at home, mementos of her time taking care of the Steelers organization.
Can you tell us more about Inova Sports Medicine and why your organization was the right fit for partnership with the Nationals?
Because of our focus on comprehensive care and injury prevention, Inova Sports Medicine has been a natural fit for the needs of the Nationals. Inova Sports Medicine is a comprehensive program that includes a one-stop shop for athletes of all ages and abilities. We have, under one roof, the specialists that any athlete needs to rehabilitate quickly and safely and get back to play as soon as possible. At Inova Sports Medicine, our team includes athletic trainers, physical therapists, neuropsychologists, primary care physicians, orthopedic surgeons and sports performance specialists. We are all fellowship trained in sports medicine, giving us the necessary education and experience any athlete of any ability should expect of their team of doctors for injury care and rehabilitation.
Do you treat the Nationals’ professional players any differently than you treat the everyday athlete?
That is a great question and one that I’m asked often. No, I do not treat any one athlete different than another, regardless of ability. If you’re a Washington Nationals professional player or an average everyday athlete visiting Inova Sports Medicine, the time you spend with me and our staff will be very similar. We will offer the same customized care options, specific to the needs of the individual we are treating. The main difference between the care of a professional athlete and the care of an everyday athlete is the urgency surrounding an injury and the length of time to get that professional athlete back to play, quickly and safely. We have the same goal at Inova Sports Medicine for every athlete that we treat. However, professional athletes are paid to play, which means they have resources available to them, 24 hours a day and 7 days a week that most amateur athletes do not. Nationals players have a team of specialists employed by the organization solely focused on treating an injured player and rehabbing them as quickly as they possibly can to get that player back on the field and working.
Can you talk about baseball injuries that are common to the sport, regardless of the level of play?
The Washington Nationals organization puts a lot of emphasis on injury prevention. It’s a core strategy in the care of our athletes but regardless of the preparation, injuries are still going to happen. Baseball injuries are typically overuse injuries. We don’t see a lot of traumatic injuries such as those that occur on a football field, as an example. From throwing and squatting, we see a lot of overuse injuries in the elbows, the shoulders and the knees. These are the most common injuries that occur in baseball players and depending on the player and the severity of the injury, the treatment methods vary. Injuries don’t always mean surgery, necessarily. We are able to evaluate injuries through MRIs, ultrasound technology and various types of testing to determine the best course of action. Yes, that could mean surgery but it also could mean non-surgical treatment such as injections under dynamic ultrasound guidance, targeted physical therapy or any other number of different treatment options depending on the athlete, the injury and the severity.
What is your favorite part of the job?
My favorite part of my job with the Nationals is the privilege of working with a fantastic medical team and providing a superior multi-disciplinary approach to injury prevention and treatment. I am so proud to have helped in building the great team at Inova Sports Medicine from the ground up. Our work with the Nationals is the favorite part of the responsibilities I share with my sports medicine team at Inova.
Are you an athlete?
Yes, I was a competitive swimmer growing up in Southern California (Santa Monica), and I still compete regularly in triathlons, marathons and all sorts of road races. I could fit into the category of “weekend warrior” but honestly, most of my weekends are spent with the Nationals! My competitive nature and focus on healthy living allows me to keep my own training and athletic capabilities a priority, regardless of how busy the other areas of my life become.
Point of Interest: Dr. West isn’t your average athlete. Her competitive nature is apparent by the most recent races she competed in, including the Alcatraz Triathlon (for those who don’t know, this challenge includes a 1.5 mile swim across San Francisco Bay), the Ironman 70.3 Eagleman and the DC Rock ‘N Roll Half Marathon.
Who is Robin West? Can you tell us more about the person behind the doctor?
Let’s see … what can I tell you? I like hard rock music and love outdoor summer concerts — Kid Rock and Zac Brown are probably my favorites! I make great homemade pizza and would consider studying to be a chef in my next life. My favorite place to be is anywhere outdoors, especially when I’m with my family. I love spending time with my two daughters, my husband and our two dogs. And really, that’s what motivates me. I work hard every day to be a strong role model for my daughters. I want them to believe they can do and be anything they set their minds to.