Sydney (The Pulse health news, 19 Oct 2003):Westmead Hospital’s Kavita Varshney, international disaster medicine expert, is here to help.

From a medical student training at Westmead Hospital, to the newly appointed Chair of the Disaster Special Interest Group for the International Federation of Emergency Medicine (IFEM),

Westmead Hospital’s Kavita Varshney, international disaster medicine expert

Kavita Varshney’s career helping people ‘on the worst days of their lives’ has seen her attending to patients at some of the biggest international disasters.

Speaking about her time working at the sites of music festivals and flooding in the Solomon Islands, Kavita paints a vivid picture of what it is like to arrive at a scene of despair and chaos.

“You’re not working in a building with four walls and beds that you would usually use to treat patients – in this instance, you are treating patients on cots or on your knees,” she said.

“It’s quite physical and it’s about being flexible because things can’t necessarily happen in the way that you’re used to them happening. We have to think a bit outside the box on what we are trying to achieve and how can we make that happen.”

Kavita is the Deputy Director of the Emergency Department at Westmead Hospital and has held many prestigious roles relating to emergency and disaster medicine.

Her latest achievement is her place on the IFEM Disaster Special Interest Group. She is the first Australian to chair this prestigious group of experts from all over the world.

The group is a space for these experts to collaborate, share research and plans. Such relationships are invaluable when it comes to navigating cross-border disasters.

As a leader, Kavita is responsible for directing these esteemed disaster specialists and facilitating workshops, courses and involvement in the International Congresses.

She is passionate about providing care – in all forms – for those who suddenly find themselves in the nightmarish circumstances of natural disasters across the globe.

When asked to describe what it is like to work in such a fluid environment – where issues can arise or circumstances can change at a moment’s notice – Kavita said this is not too unlike working in the Emergency Department, where you need to be able to adapt and serve the patients in front of you no matter what ailment they walk through the doors with.

“A lot of it isn’t just clinical. There’s a lot of logistics and obviously communication that goes these roles,” she said.

“At the end of the day, sometimes my job is to deliver the medical care in these situations – but at other times it’s looking after the team, or providing logistics assistance, or just sitting with people who have been affected in various ways.”

In her new position at the International Federation of Emergency Medicine, Kavita will continue to advocate for patient care and procedures which will streamline responses to disaster scenarios on an international scale.

“Often in ED you’re seeing people absolutely on the worst day of their lives and you’re breaking your worst news to them that you can imagine,” Kavita said.

“I think just understanding that you are doing that and remembering that it is a privilege and honour to support them at this time allows you to keep everything as empathetic as possible.

“At the end of the day, we’re connecting and supporting people from one human being to another.”


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