Dr. Melissa McCarthy ’18 Accepts Indiana University’s Motorsports Medicine Fellowship
Every May, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway becomes home to the world’s largest single-day sporting event, the Indianapolis 500. Over a century of racing history has led the Indy 500 to be known as the “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing” and considered part of the Triple Crown of Motorsports, comprising three of the most prestigious motorsports events in the world (along with the Monaco Grand Prix and 24 Hours at Le Mans).
For Melissa McCarthy, MD ’18, the Indy 500 is more than a race – it is a part of her family history. She was raised outside of the Milwaukee, Wisconsin-area, but her best childhood memories come from the 5-hour drive south to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, one of the sporting world’s most hallowed grounds. “I have been to almost every Indy 500 since I was 11 years old,” she recalled, “It’s a huge event that really starts at the beginning of the month with pre-race events, and it was something that always brought my family together.”
When the green flag waves at the 106th running of the Indy 500 on May 29, 2022, Dr. McCarthy will be right back where her second family home began. Her first Indy 500 was the 65th running in 1981. She remembers it clearly as it is where she got Bobby Unser’s autograph the same year he won. (pictured). She’ll attend in 2022 in a way she never imagined—as part of the Motorsports Medicine Team.
That experience will be made possible thanks to a Motorsports Medicine Elective Dr. McCarthy is participating in this month. In July, her attention will be on motorsports full time as she begins a fellowship in Motorsports Medicine with Indiana University’s School of Medicine.
In her opening statement for the Fellowship application, Dr. McCarthy described the Indy 500 as an annual pilgrimage her family has made for more than 40 years: “…the race is a big part of it but so is family. I am a middle child of 8 children, with family all over the world. Memorial Day weekend is the one weekend we have set aside for each other. As such, my affinity to the Indy Series is as much a part of the fabric of our family as my mom’s mashed potatoes.”
The first program of its kind, the Indiana University School of Medicine Motorsports Medicine Fellowship is a formal one-year program that provides a universally-accepted approach to the evaluation and treatment of high-velocity and ultra-high-velocity crash injuries, race injury prevention and promotion of safety in the motorsports industry (medicine.iu.edu).
The Indy 500 is part of the IndyCar Series, the top level of American Championship Car racing, an open-wheel, open-cockpit formula, exposing drivers to the open track and putting them at heightened risk in the event of a crash. Dr. McCarthy will be providing on-track support as part of the race safety and incident response teams, conducting pre-race and post-race driver medical evaluations, accident trauma response, post-accident driver examinations, and mass event medical support for one of the largest spectator events annually. In all, the needs of roughly 300,000 are under the care of the Motorsports Medicine Team.
“I thrive thinking on my feet and being in an active and attentive setting. I look forward to learning from and working with the entire safety team and I hope I can be part of building this program into something truly great,” said Dr. McCarthy.
FOUNDATIONS OF A MEDICAL CAREER
The foundation of a career as a physician goes back to Dr. McCarthy’s congressional nomination to attend the United States Military Academy at West Point. “West Point and the military instilled in me a lifelong dedication and true love for service,” Dr. McCarthy wrote in her Fellowship statement. “I served as an Army officer in the United States and overseas taking on multiple leadership roles overseeing the lives, health, and welfare of dozens of soldiers.”
Dr. McCarthy knew she wanted to be a physician while at West Point, but fulfilling her military obligations postponed her desire to attend medical school. When she completed her service, she transitioned to a career in the defense industry in Washington D.C. until 2012 when her company at the time was sold. “I took off to Miami and wondered what my next chapter would be,” she recalled. Two years later, Dr. McCarthy would enroll at American University of the Caribbean School of Medicine (AUC).
Motorsports medicine is an extension of emergency medicine, which Dr. McCarthy was drawn to as early as her first internal medicine rotation. “Once I felt the fast-paced nature, it connected with my military background. In emergency medicine I have the opportunity to treat everyone and need to be prepared for a diversity of treatments and plans.” After completing fourth-year electives at Ascension Macomb Oakland Hospital in Detroit, Michigan, Dr. McCarthy placed into residency there in emergency medicine.
Indiana University’s Motorsports Medicine Fellowship describes motorsports medicine as a discipline that encompasses a unique body of knowledge and a skill set that is not currently available in other medical subspecialty training. Every step of Dr. McCarthy’s journey has prepared her for this next chapter, where a true love for motorsports started its engine and a family’s lifelong bonds were forged around the 500 miles of track.