Behind the Scenes with an IndyCar Nurse

Denise Titus with Davey Hamilton, one of the many IndyCar drivers she’s grown close to through recovery and rehab after injuries.

You already know that your nursing education can open many doors to new opportunities for career advancement beyond the day-to-day functions as a floor nurse in a hospital setting. Registered nurses often move on to roles in hospital administration and leadership within the healthcare system. However, your nursing education can also take you places you’ve never dreamed of, such as on the road for seventeen weekends a year serving as a nurse for the IndyCar Series and its drivers and teams.

We sat down with Denise Titus, a registered nurse on staff with IndyCar, to learn more about her experience on the road and what it’s like to work with professional athletes and sports teams, all while maintaining her full-time job as an RN for an orthopedic surgeon in her home base of Indianapolis.

How long have you been a nurse?

DT: I have been a nurse since 1976. I graduated June 1, so that’s 38 years this year.

How long have you been traveling with IndyCar? How did that opportunity come about?

DT: To be honest, I can’t remember if this is my thirteenth or fourteenth year – but a long time. Dr. Bock was the medical director [of IndyCar] at the time, and the physician that I work for full time, Dr. Scheid, was one of the orthopedic consultants. At that time we were having a lot of orthopedic injuries, and every time somebody would crash, Dr. Scheid would call me and say, “They’re at such-and-such hospital, and we need to get them back to Indy.” So I would start facilitating things to get them transported from the Indianapolis location. There were always two emergency room nurses who traveled with IndyCar at that time, and they would always kind of argue about who had to stay because everyone had jobs to go back to. So Dr. Bock asked Dr. Scheid if he could offer me a position because he wanted one person to be the same person every race, every venue – that a driver or family member knew – so if somebody went to the hospital, that was always going to be the contact person. So he asked me, and I said yes. We were one year away from being empty nesters and it just kind of worked out.

What does a typical weekend on the road with IndyCar look like for you?

DT: I try to be at the track 1-2 hours before cars go on track, and then basically I just sit in the medical trailer and wait for something to happen, unfortunately. Now when there’s downtime, I typically make walks through the garage area to see if I run into somebody we’ve seen in the past. A lot of times, the guys don’t have a lot of downtime, and sometimes it’s just easier if they just yell, “I’ve got a problem,” and then I can facilitate what the problem is, how we’re going to get it fixed and that kind of stuff. And then a lot of times on the weekend when cars are on track, I’ll spend a decent amount of time inside the infield care center just developing relationships with the staff there, because that is key. Particularly if we have a driver transported. If we’ve got a good relationship with the people in the infield care center, particularly if their institution is the one we use to transport [injured drivers], it just makes life so much easier. Plus, lots of times, for example, there are venues where we’ve had drivers testing at and they’ve had an issue, so I can always call and say, “Hey, I’ve got a driver at the track. This is what’s going on. Can you help me?” And I’ve never been turned down.

How does it differ than your day-to-day job as nurse in a traditional practice?

DT: It’s much more relaxing. At my real job, I do all the orders, all the histories and physicals, all the patient rounds, all the patient messages, deal with all the problems. I guess theoretically I’m on call 24/7 for both jobs, but there’s a lot more paperwork on my full-time position, that’s for sure.

What is the biggest challenge of being a nurse with IndyCar?

DT: You know, I don’t think for me personally it’s a challenge in the fact that I am a people person and I like to know my patients. But I think the challenge is developing those relationships because typically I don’t have a relationship with a driver unless they’ve had an injury. So the most challenging thing is at that point. It’s just so important to get that trust right off the bat, whether it be from the driver or from the family, depending on the criticalness of the injury.

What is the best or most rewarding part about being a nurse with IndyCar?

DT: The relationships, honestly. I’ve been to baby showers. I’ve been to weddings. There’s good and bad. You almost get too close.

Did you ever imagine you’d have the opportunity to do something like this with your nursing degree?

DT: Never in a million years. And it’s so funny, because prior to this I’ve never been a racing fan. When I was growing up as a little girl, I loved college football. That’s what I always watched. My sister, watched the Indy 500 every year from the age of seven, and she is so jealous that I have the opportunity to be here. She actually came for a visit a few years ago and we brought her out on a qualification weekend. She had a great time. Never in a million years. You don’t think of nursing as an opportunity to do this, but it’s very special. I love the people. It’s one big family. And I’ve found that really when we’ve had bad things happen as far as injuries go. I get immediate texts from the NASCAR nurses. We correspond weekly. Racing, as a whole, is one big community.

After spending some time around the track with Denise, it is evident that she is known and loved as a member of this tight-knit community. As a nurse, she develops relationships with drivers and their families during their most vulnerable times, providing both medical and emotional support. Although the travel keeps her busy during the racing season, the task of balancing her IndyCar role with her full-time job is worth it. “It makes it easier to be a rock when you love what you do. I do one for the job and the other for the love.” If you want to have the opportunities Denise has had, contact us today about earning your accelerated nursing degree in Indianapolis.

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