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Dave Thomas

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Dave Thomas, Hospital Assistant III UCLA Medical Center, Santa MonicaDave Thomas, Hospital Assistant III UCLA Medical Center, Santa Monica

Bringing Team Spirit to UCLA

Thomas leads his award-winning hospital team with the same motto he uses for the student athletes he coaches year-round: "Expect to win." A former emergency medical technician, Thomas became a hospital assistant in 1995 and now supervises nine assistants. The group won the hospital's "team spirit" award in May.

What does a hospital assistant do?
We clean and set up the operating rooms and make sure they are ready for surgeries and other procedures. We pick up patients and make sure they go to the right room according to the procedures being done. We are responsible for making sure all the right equipment is in the right room and that all of the equipment works. Surgeons and nurses want to be able to walk into a room, push a button and it works. And when things don't do exactly what they want them to do, we are the ones they call to troubleshoot.

How did you decide to become a hospital assistant?

I've always had a fascination with what goes on in the operating room, so that's why I wanted to start at the ground level to figure out where I could fit in to help make every surgery become a success.

What's your role as a supervisor?
It's not about me at all. It's truly about my team. I like to turn each employee into a leader. That is my goal. From years of working with certain doctors and understanding certain procedures, I like to train my team to know not only the equipment, but to look at the OR schedules and to understand the procedures because then they will know exactly what the doctor wants. Another thing we always stress to employees is that we must connect with every patient and family member. We want them to feel that when their mom or dad or sister or brother is entrusted to our care, we're going to treat them like they're part of our family.

What does "expect to win" mean to you?
At the beginning of our shift, during our huddles, I like to speak to the team about our plan for the day. I always say, "We expect to win." This is our goal. We expect each and every patient to get his or her desired wish. We want to make sure everything goes well, just as much as that surgeon and that nurse. I use the phrase "expect to win" not only at work, but also with the kids I coach in track and field and cross-country. It's also the name of my running club.

What kind of running club is Expect to Win?
I have about 25 kids from all over and we run during the summer and after school. I've been doing it for about nine years purely on a volunteer basis so that's why we can run year-round. We go to different 5Ks and 10Ks and run a lot of the cancer charity runs. Four out of my nine kids who did the Bruin Run for Mattel Children's Hospital UCLA took home a gift because they won for their age group. I teach the fundamentals of running but also leadership skills and life skills and the importance of giving back. I want them to be the next leaders. I want them to realize they can be that surgeon or that super nurse that Coach talks about. I tell them to take what they learn from running back into the classroom because that same discipline will get them where they want to be in life.

How did you become interested in running?
When I was a kid, I always ran with the fire department. When I would see them training at the parks, they would always invite me to run with them. And I would hang out with them and the paramedics afterwards. That's what made me want to become an emergency medical technician.

What do you enjoy about running?
Running for me has become a way of life. It keeps me balanced and strong and prepares me for my day at work, physically and mentally. I live eight miles away from my place of work. I choose to ride my bike Monday through Thursday just as a way to stay fit and to feel like I can give my patients the best care. It's one way I handle stress.

Do you have any other hobbies or interests?
I like gardening. I like digging up earthworms, planting new flowers and dropping seeds. I have the greenest grass on the block. That's one of the ways I relax. I grow a variety of different flowers, but my favorite is sunflowers. I think it shocks the whole neighborhood when they see these huge sunflowers that I've grown around my house.