Looking for Laughs: How Matthew Carroll, M.D., Finds the Fun in Life and Work
Dr. Carroll is laser focused on health care quality and safety.
By Ashley Antle
The choice of pediatrics over adult medicine was an easy one for Matthew Carroll, M.D. It came down to the one thing that all kids, be them sick or well, know and love — a good dose of fun!
“Kids are more fun,” Dr. Carroll said. “A kid could be going through horrible stuff and yet somehow they still manage to have a smile on their face and a positive attitude, and they can still laugh. I know if I was going through even half of what they were going through, I would be crabby. I would be grumpy. I would certainly not be smiling or laughing, but that's just the purity of pediatrics and kids.”
Although his roles as a hospitalist and Cook Children’s Associate Chief Quality Officer are serious ones, Dr. Carroll likes to have a little fun of his own. He credits weekly racquetball games with fellow Cook Children’s physician Danny Rafati, M.D., as an outlet for both entertainment and exercise.
Who’s the better player? It may depend on who you ask.
“I would say me, but I’m probably lying,” Dr. Carroll said with a chuckle and a grin. “He probably beats me about 60% of the time and I probably win about 40% of the time, but even the games where I lose they’re still close matches.”
Outside the racquetball court, Dr. Carroll is laser focused on health care quality and safety. Four years ago, he transitioned from full-time hospitalist to Associate Chief Quality Officer. He still maintains some hospitalist clinical hours, but about 75% of his time is spent poring over quality measures and outcomes data, identifying systems that need improvement and working with others to promote quality and safety within their practices.
“High quality, safe care is our ‘product,’ ” Dr. Carroll said. “It's what we ‘sell.’ It's what we do. I think high quality, safe care is to Cook Children's as the search box is to Google or the F-150 is to Ford. So it's incredibly important in terms of how we support our physicians and staff in delivering high quality care.”
Dr. Carroll’s role is to help make sure physicians and staff have the support they need to deliver that ‘product.' He regularly reviews events and asks what can be learned from them, what can be improved and what systems can be put in place as a safeguard for the future. These systems are more important than ever before, he says, because physicians and staff are stretched as thin as they’ve ever been.
“Part of why people work here is because they're passionate about delivering high quality and safe care to our patients, but at the same time, we're all humans,” he said. “We are imperfect creatures working in an imperfect system. And so how do we construct and build systems that are able to anticipate the inevitable mistakes that are going to come with being human? How do we prevent those mistakes from reaching the patient?”
It all starts with listening, Dr. Carroll says. Listening to understand another provider’s perspective. Listening to understand their unique work situations and what will and will not work on the frontlines and in their individual clinics and practices. Listening to build relationships.
“I think the more you listen to people, the more you learn, and the more others are willing to work with you,” he said.
His proudest achievement so far? The development of quality and safety education for physicians, which has now branched into other disciplines. He’s eager to give credit to the team that made it happen.
“It has been a great effort between Quality, Education, Legal, Pharmacy and Nursing to share learnings about these important topics and has been well received by those who have participated in them,” Dr. Carroll said. “Hopefully it helps to contribute to the exceptional care we deliver here at Cook Children’s.”
Dr. Carroll knew he wanted to be a doctor as a teenager. He attended a health sciences magnet high school in Laredo, Texas—one of the many Texas towns his family lived in throughout his early childhood. He recalls that for the first 12 years of his life, his family moved to a different part of the state every few years for his dad’s job, but never to the D/FW area. It wasn’t until Dr. Carroll moved to Fort Worth eight years ago to work at Cook Children’s that he spent any meaningful time in Cowtown. Now, he’s content to call it home for himself, his wife and their two children—a 4-year-old boy and 2-year-old girl. It’s laidback and chill, he says, and home to plenty of great Mexican restaurants where he can enjoy his favored chips and salsa.
Playing with his kids at the end of a long day is how Dr. Carroll turns off work and turns on rest. Once they’re in bed, you’ll likely find him relaxing on the couch with his wife as they unwind while watching a TV show or two. It’s time he holds dear as he works to balance work, family and his own health.
Taking time to rest is important for physicians, Dr. Carroll contends, but easier said than done for people who chose a profession devoted to helping others. It’s a balance he’s still trying to achieve for the good of himself, his family, his patients and his work.
“I know it’s a lame comparison, but I think it’s really similar to whenever you fly and, during the safety briefing, they tell you to put the oxygen mask on yourself first before you assist anyone else with theirs,” he said. “Before we can take good care of others, we have to take care of ourselves first. If we’re drained, constantly stressed and our tanks are on empty, it’s hard to find much to give our patients. Taking care of ourselves means that we are in a much better place to empathetically listen to our patients and partner with them and their parents to come up with the best treatment plan.”
During his early days of training at Baylor College of Medicine and then Cincinnati Children’s Hospital, Dr. Carroll never imagined his medical career would take its current trajectory into administration and Quality, but he loves the unexpected path he’s venturing and the people he’s working with along the way.
“I love what I do within Quality, but I am one small piece of a much larger department with everyone doing a fantastic job,” Dr. Carroll said. “I don't want any of this to give the impression that it's just me working out there on my own, doing all of this great stuff. It is a team effort and I'm fortunate and lucky enough that I’m part of such a great team of dedicated people. That just makes it easy and fun.”