It’s May in Indianapolis and that means one thing. The Indianapolis 500 is right around the corner. Every year, hundreds of thousands of fans fill the stands and track grounds to see some of the greatest drivers in racing compete.It also means fans will see several women continue to break barriers on the track in the motorsports field. Two of those women are faculty at IU School of Medicine’s Department of Emergency Medicine, Dr. Julia Vaizer and Dr. Melissa McCarthy. Both have a passion for emergency medicine, and motorsports medicine. It’s a fast-paced field, traditionally known to be male-dominated, but that didn’t stop them from getting involved and paving the way for other women considering a career in motorsports.“I think adding more women to the track surface for racing would really do a lot of good,” said Vaizer.Both women are a part of the IndyCar medical response unit, which provides medical care across the 17 IndyCar races each season. Today, Vaizer serves as the first female medical director. In this role, she oversees all the medical services at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. McCarthy serves as a physician on the team. Both are working to provide care to drivers and spectators at track and the newly renovated infield hospital on race day, physicians, along with contracted EMS personnel, staff 15 first aid stations on the grounds and generally treat between 500 and 800 people. When heat and humidity are high, the number can reach up to 1,000, and that doesn’t include the multiple events taking place at the track leading up to the Indy 500. Many of the physicians and nurses treating patients during the whole month of May are women.
“The last two races we have had were an all-women medical team. All the nurses, all the doctors, even the driver of our 1200 car, which is the one who drives us out on track to make sure we get to everything safely, were all women,” said McCarthy.
Vaizer was the first graduate of the IUSM motorsport fellowship back in July 2021. Now, McCarthy is a fellow in the program, working under Vaizer’s mentorship. While they say more women are joining the field, it hasn’t always been that way.
“I went to medical school pretty late in life and I got a lot of pushback and weird comments,” said McCarthy.
Vaizer says if you have a passion, pursue it, no matter what other people might think.
“It’s not like you are told no, but you are met with hesitation. Not out-front resistance, but more of doubt. I think this is something we have all experienced at some point. People look at you like you aren’t going to make it,” said Vaizer.
Those comments didn’t keep either of them from following their dream - working on one of the most successful medical teams in the world of motorsports. Vaizer says just in the last decade, it’s become more of a women friendly field.
“I think the day when we are just carrying on with our jobs, doing them well like we do, is the day we succeeded,” said Vazier.
McCarthy and Vaizer say in their careers so far, they have received a lot of support.
“Some of my biggest supporters, mentors, and people who helped me get here are men. I think that’s something we never talk about. We always talk about women empowering women, but there are also men allies as well,” said Vazier.
McCarthy says women already in the field have paved a way for others, making it more powerful and accepting to see women in these types of roles.
“Once you see a woman in that role, then it’s no longer a big deal,” said McCarthy.
Not only do they hope more women will find motorsports medicine as their passion, but hope they know anything they put their mind to is possible.
“If they want to do it, they can do it,” said Vaizer.
The views expressed in this content represent the perspective and opinions of the author and may or may not represent the position of Indiana University School of Medicine.
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