Play After Play, Patient After Patient: Lessons from Football Can Up Your Game in the OR
Dante Wheat’s mother did not want him to play football, so when he tried out for the team and got chosen, he kind of leaves out the reason he had to stay at school after classes were over. When he finally broke the news to her, he softened the blow with the fact that he was incredibly good at it.
Wheat was rated as one of the top football prospects coming out of high school in the 1981 issue of The Blue Chips Magazine. He played two seasons for the Red Ravens at Coffeyville Community College in Coffeyville, KS, and the remainder of his football career at the University of Louisville for the Cardinals. He even crossed paths with the legendary football coach Howard Schnellenberger, who gave him another year of eligibility to help Wheat pay for school.
Football not only presented opportunities for him to contribute his talent to a college team, but he also took the lessons he learned playing a team sport into the operating room. Wheat shares how the sport inspires his approach to perioperative leadership. Plus, with football season upon us, Wheat shares which teams he has his eye on this season.
What position did you play?
Nose guard. It’s the most dangerous position you can play because the goal is to cause chaos and try to disrupt the exchange of the ball from the center to the quarterback. So, you have to create havoc within the nucleus of the offensive line to prevent people from running and to apply pressure to the quarterback. You also have to be fast. At any given time, three people will try to hit you at one time. I enjoyed being that person and it matched my skill set. I was 6’1”, about 235 pounds at the time, and very quick on my feet.
Much like football, the OR rises and falls on the team working together. What lessons do you bring from the world of football into the world of perioperative?
Football has taught me to build relationships with others, develop their talent, unleash their dormant potential, and allow them to do what they came [to the facility] to do. Sometimes, we bring people in based on their record of accomplishment and then shut them down and mold them into what we want them to be, versus allowing them to do what we hired or promoted them to do. There is this book called You Can’t Send a Duck to Eagle School. The idea is that if you’re recruiting eagles, don’t hire ducks. And if you have an eagle, don’t treat them like a duck. Coach the right people to the right expectations.
Second, do your job. Football teaches us to never forget the fundamentals of blocking, tackling, and knowing what to do during each and every down. It’s a team sport. In the OR, everyone’s job—the nurses, techs, surgeons, anesthetists—is crucial to achieving the predictive outcome for every patient, every time. So do the job consistently right and at the highest level possible.
Bill Parcells has a quote, “You are what your record says you are.” If a hospital has two out of five stars, that’s what they are until it’s consistently changed for the better.
Who are your favorite teams right now? What are you most looking forward to this season?
I’m an avid Cardinal fan. I take my vacations during football season because I like to travel with them. For the pros, I like the Baltimore Ravens because they have a quarterback that played at Louisville, Lamar Jackson. He was the first and only player to win the Heisman.
Louisville has a new coach that is starting his third year and he did extremely well during his first. In 2020, due to COVID, we kind of went backward a little, we only won four games. For the Ravens, this will also be Lamar’s fourth year. They should make it deep into the playoffs.
Overall, I’m looking for this season to be a breakout year for both teams, with better execution and habits from each player. According to Aristotle, “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence then is not an act, but a habit.”
Dante Wheat is the interim Director of Surgical Services at UF Health Jacksonville, at the University of Florida.