Dr Kanan Shah is a visiting medical officer (VMO) at Westmead, Auburn and Royal Prince Alfred hospitals and is part of the emergency COVID-19 anaesthesia response team at Westmead Hospital.

She’ll appear in an up-coming Vogue Australia feature about female frontline workers in June. Read an excerpt from her interview.

What is ​your role?

I am an anaesthetist. My job is predominantly to safely provide anaesthesia and pain relief to patients undergoing procedures in the operating theatres and in birth unit. I have a special interest in simulation and education, and last year did a Simulation and Education Fellowship at Westmead Hospital.

How has your job changed s​ince COVID-19?

Initially I was involved with helping to run simulation sessions for all anaesthetists, anaesthetic trainees and nurses on airway management and intubation of a confirmed or suspected COVID-19 patient. Together with the simulation team at Westmead, we managed to run through the drill at least once with each member of the anaesthetic department.

I am also a member of the 24/7 on-site Emergency COVID Anaesthesia Response Team (ECART) at Westmead Hospital. We are directly involved in managing the airway of patients in respiratory distress due to confirmed or suspected COVID-19 throughout the hospital. This means that after thinking I had done my last night shift ever in January this year, I am back to doing on-site night shifts!

When I do have a theatre list, I have the additional responsibility of ensuring my anaesthetic nurse and the theatre team is well protected and safe during intubation and extubation, procedures known to generate aerosols, which is what is responsible for spreading the virus.

What do you view as your responsibility in your job, both day-t​o-day and in the big picture?

My biggest responsibility is to ensure my patients feel as comfortable and relaxed as they can be before undergoing any anaesthetic. I love being able to quickly establish rapport with my patients and work in a team to ensure my patients have the safest possible perioperative course.

I also see teaching and education as part of my role and try to incorporate this into my daily practice, whether it be teaching students or junior registrars, or running a simulation session where possible. As anaesthetists, we are trained to lead a team and have excellent communication skills which come in handy on a day to day basis, and also when managing a crisis.

What’s the general mood/vibe been among staff during thi​s period?

Everyone has definitely been trying to stay positive and that’s the general vibe around the hospital. Obviously everyone is dealing with the stress, anxiety and uncertainty, however I definitely feel that everyone is working together and doing their best to help stop the spread and to help keep everyone safe and protected.

It’s been really nice seeing various teams throughout the hospital adjust their “usual” practice, including segregating teams, staggering shifts, and doing more online/phone consults. It has also been really nice to be greeted with a smiling face asking you if you’re feeling well every time you enter the hospital!

What ​are you most excited to do when lockdown lifts?

Being able to hug my family again, and have a long lazy day outdoors with friends! And also, going back to the gym and lifting a weight that is heavier than my milk bottle!​​​​​​​​​​​

Current as at: Friday 22 May 2020
Contact page owner: Health Protection NSW