Kids Drive Themselves to Surgery


A girl driving a child's car

A desire to take some of the stress out of the surgical experience inspired an innovative approach to care at Shriners Hospitals for Children — Northern California.

That care comes in the form of electric cars that kids between the ages of 2 and 7 years old can drive to surgery.  The toy cars are just like those that can be purchased off the shelf at a big box retailer.  But when a patient sits behind the wheel they become vehicles of change.

“The cars give kids a sense of control and independence,” said child life specialist Caitlin French, who worked with her child life colleagues and the operating room team to research the use of the cars.  “Recent studies support the use of ride-on vehicles to help reduce a patient’s anxiety during the transition into the operating room,” she said.

Sundeep Tumber, D.O., chief of anesthesia, says the cars also result in a decreased use of medication before surgery, which can speed the recovery process.

“We are seeing that the cars are beneficial to both patients and parents,” said Dr. Tumber.

“Kids driving to surgery are able to separate from their parents in a fun way.    And, parents are able to say goodbye to a smiling child, instead of having to wipe away their tears.”

All patients scheduled for surgery who can fit comfortably into the car are given the option to drive to surgery.

“My most memorable experience was with my first patient who got to drive,” said Dr. Tumber. “Both the mother and child were anxious about the surgery. Mom was in tears.  But when the child drove away, the smile on her face could light up the room.”