The vaccine is the only way to beat the pandemic, asserts Dr Shyam Kolvekar

The vaccine is the only way to beat the pandemic, asserts Dr Shyam Kolvekar

As part of our Frontline Series, this time ‘iGlobal’ gets in conversation with leading cardiothoracic surgeon Dr Shyam Kolvekar in the National Health Service (NHS). Being among the first frontline workers to have received the Covid-19 vaccines, he shares some key pointers related to the vaccine and gives us a gist of the healthcare sector in the UK during the global epidemic.

Dr Shyam Kolvekar MBBS MS MCh FRCPS FRCS FRCSCTh is a Consultant Cardiothoracic Surgeon at St. Bartholomew's Hospital based in central London. He also practices at Royal Free Hospital, Harley Street Clinic, Wellington Hospital and London Clinic.

Having pursued his medical degree in India, MBBS and MS (gen surgery) from Bombay University, Dr Kolvekar chose to further specialise with a MCh in cardiovascular and thoracic surgery. “I chose this specific subspecialty in cardiac thoracic surgery because I really enjoy the practical side of medicine and being able to make a difference using my hands.”

Dr Kolvekar goes on to explain: “Cardiac surgery is unique in the surgical specialties in that you need to know a lot of medical physiology which is what I found most interesting at medical school.”

His expertise also lies in the field of correction of chest wall deformities and reconstruction for which he operates a weekly specialist clinic. Additionally, Dr Kolvekar is an internationally recognised surgeon for adolescent and adult NUSS procedure with new techniques for better pain control and reduced risks from surgery.

Besides practising medicine, he is an Honorary Associate Professor at University College London and a visiting Professor at Manipal Medical College in India. He is regularly invited to give lectures, run workshops and train other thoracic surgeons. Some of his works have been published in international journals and book chapters as well.

The medic points out the drawbacks of the bureaucratic environment at the NHS. “My journey with the NHS has had its ups and downs. Fundamentally the NHS is an amazing organisation and is probably the best at what it does in the world. However, there are times when it can be frustrating especially if as a doctor, we are trying to make any new changes. The process can be very drawn out and sometimes it is just not worth the effort to challenge some of the bureaucracy.”

Here he gives some insights into aspects such as vaccine safety, coping mechanisms during the lockdown, and work-life balance:

Q

Can you please share your experience of getting the vaccine to fight Covid?

A

My personal experience of getting the vaccine has been very smooth. Barts Hospital ensured that all its staff was prioritised and given plenty of opportunities to get the first dose of the vaccine. All my colleagues and I took the vaccine without any hesitancy.

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Q

What is your message to those in the community who may have doubts about getting vaccinated?

A

It is only natural to be wary about taking an injection or a vaccine that has not even been out for more than 6 months, but it is very important that everyone who is eligible to take the vaccine should sign up straight away. That is the message I want to give to everyone. Everything in life has side effects! The side effects of the vaccine are very small. You are at higher risk of getting hit by a bus than having a serious side effect with any of the vaccines. You will be at much higher risk of dying from Covid than any side effect from the vaccine. It’s important for all of us that we take the vaccine.

Please take the vaccine. It is safe and lifesaving. It is the only way to beat the Covid pandemic.

Q

What are some of the coping mechanisms that help you balance the extra work pressures, stress, and tragedy through the pandemic?

A

Relaxing and enjoying time with family is important for us as we spend a lot of time without seeing family. Keeping in touch regularly via Zoom with friends during lockdown has also kept us going. Taking a break from work and exercising outdoors are ways in which I re-energise from the stress of the pandemic. Yoga and meditation can also help for holistic wellbeing.

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Q

What have been some memorable moments during the course of the crisis since last year?

A

Of course, some of the most harrowing moments were when almost every ITU bed in all our hospitals was used by Covid patients with staff all wearing full PPE when doing their rounds. It was a terrifying period. However, equally as memorable was the mass vaccination at our hospitals and now a near return back to normal. This has been a remarkable year so far. Operating with extra layers of PPE was a new experience and took time to adopt it. As a surgeon, every operation we do it in PPE anyway.

Q

What would be your message to those considering a career with the NHS?

A

My message would be to definitely experience what it is like to work in the NHS. There are several volunteer programs available at almost every NHS hospital where you can help. Getting in touch with doctors at a hospital can get you to shadow them in the workplace to see what it is really like to work on a day-to-day basis. That will really give you an insight to see if you would enjoy a career in the NHS. I have worked in several different health systems around the world but nothing is as good as the NHS and the best part is it is like a big family working together to help everyone!

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