Jeffrey Ferguson will be leading a medical team this weekend at the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series event at Richmond Raceway. (Photo by Allen Jones, University Marketing)

Saving lives at Richmond Raceway

Jeffrey Ferguson and a team of VCU Health emergency physicians provide care at some of the region’s largest sporting events.

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Jeffrey Ferguson, M.D., spent his young adulthood volunteering as an emergency medical services provider in his hometown of Franklin County, Virginia. Now, as an emergency medicine doctor at VCU Medical Center, Ferguson leads medical care at some of Richmond’s largest sporting events including the Richmond Marathon and events for NASCAR and the PGA Tour.

“I pretty much never left the EMS world once it became a hobby of mine. The spirit of helping my community and doing something good changed my life,” said Ferguson, who was recently named NASCAR’s medical director of the year.

After VCU Health's medical team successfully staffed the Union Cycliste Internationale Road World Championship bicycle races in Richmond in 2015, the hosts of other sporting events began to take notice.

“We led the collaboration of emergency management, pharmacy and physical therapists. Our team did such a good job that folks started to request us to staff other large sporting events,” Ferguson said.

The next event for the team is the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series at Richmond Raceway this weekend.

Meet ‘99 Doc’

When a crash occurs on the racetrack, an ambulance staffed with paramedics and a physician immediately responds to the driver. If the driver is unresponsive, they are taken to the nearest hospital. If the driver is responsive, they are taken to the Infield Care Center.

Enter 99 Doc, the NASCAR code name of Ferguson’s event medicine team at Richmond Raceway.

The team is made up of VCU Health emergency physicians, emergency medicine nurses and intensive care nurses. The Infield Care Center, what Ferguson describes as a “mini hospital,” contains most of the equipment and medications found in hospital emergency rooms. 

“NASCAR has great standards for medical care. So, we are a trauma-ready team with emergency room experience. The only thing we are missing is a trauma surgeon, but that’s right down the road at VCU Medical Center,” Ferguson said.

Everyone on the event medicine team has emergency room experience and is prepared to treat the head, chest and abdominal injuries that can occur in high-speed car crashes.

“These cars have a ton of safety equipment that helps the driver and the car handle the impact of a high-speed collision much better than privately owned cars,” Ferguson said. “More often though, are orthopedic and burn injuries and lacerations from contact with metal or glass.”

The event medicine team’s expertise extends to practically anyone at the racetrack.

“We treat the officials, pit crew, staff, families and fans. So, in addition to race-related injuries, there are a number of nonrace-related medical injuries or complaints that we can see too,” Ferguson said.

‘We are there to provide care’

What sets event medicine apart from providing care in the hospital is the spectators, Ferguson said. For example, at the Richmond Marathon last year, Ferguson's team treated a man who collapsed at the finish line. Within a few hours, the two were on the front page of the Richmond Times-Dispatch.

“Some of these events are on the national stage. It’s part of what we do. We are there to provide care to the public so we do our best to remain professional, and get the patient to a private space as soon as possible.”

Ferguson said some form of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder keeps him going.

“Most emergency medical professionals have some form of ADHD and we get bored easily,” Ferguson said. “EMS is my passion and the variety keeps it exciting. Being able to deal with whatever comes through the door is a very satisfying feeling.”