Intended for healthcare professionals


Standing on the shoulders of giants: the anaesthetist

BMJ 2022; 378 doi: (Published 02 August 2022) Cite this as: BMJ 2022;378:o1889
  1. Kathy Oxtoby
  1. London, UK

Consultant anaesthetist Edwin Djabatey talks to Kathy Oxtoby about the power of teamwork and why he aims to be a reassuring role model

“I believe in the saying by Isaac Newton: ‘We stand on the shoulders of giants.’ I want to be a giant for others,” says consultant anaesthetist Edwin Djabatey.

“Sometimes you just need someone to say, ‘Everything is going to be alright.’ When I was training, my mentor listened and was reassuring, so I try to be the same for others.”

Djabatey is “passionate” about his specialty. “Anaesthetists are the essential oil that lubricates the machinery of hospital medicine,” he says.

Previously based at the Royal Liverpool University Hospital, he now works mainly at Liverpool Women’s Hospital where he teaches by example, often informally. “I’m very keen on teaching, training, and mentoring the next generation of doctors. They are our future. Investing in the next generation maintains all the learning and experience gained which would otherwise be lost.”

Another feature of anaesthesia that he particularly enjoys is working in a multidisciplinary team. “It reminds me of team sports,” he says. “You have to work closely with other team members to achieve your goal—to help sick and vulnerable patients to recover.”

But it is his work on maternity units that he finds especially fulfilling. “Giving an epidural to a woman in labour and seeing so much peace on her face after being in so much pain is very rewarding,” he says.

Djabatey’s career as an anaesthetist came about “by happy chance.” He grew up and was educated in Ghana and was inspired by his uncle—a paediatrician—while on a placement when he was at school. After graduating from the University of Ghana Medical School in 1985, he initially pursued a job in ophthalmology, having become interested in river blindness. But after a stint in anaesthesia to fill his time, he soon found the specialty suited his calm temperament and desire to work as part of a team. “Anaesthetists are pack animals,” he says.

Djabatey moved to the UK in 1990 to be closer to his family. “My father was Attorney General for Ghana and when the country went through political upheaval in the late 1980s and the judiciary came under attack, he had to leave, in fear of his life. He came to the UK with my mother and siblings.”

During his training with the Mersey Region Anaesthesia Registrar Rotation Scheme, he worked in most hospitals on Merseyside and has since spent his “entire consultant career” in Liverpool. Over the years he has taken on a range of roles, including critical care lead and clinical director of anaesthesia and theatres, which he has found both challenging and satisfying. “As a clinician you want to keep growing and learning all the time to inform your practice,” he says.

Currently, he is enjoying focusing on clinical anaesthesia, including teaching and training, and hopes to “grow” into non-executive director roles. Currently he serves on the board as well as the health and safety sub-committee of Liverpool Hope University and is a director of the medical education charity the Liverpool Medical Institution Trading Company.

His interests outside of medicine—reading thrillers, listening to “all kinds of music” (from classical to smooth jazz), and going for long walks—have helped him deal with the stresses of working during the pandemic, he says.

He believes the “devastation” of covid-19 has “shone a bright light on the important role of anaesthesia, perioperative, and critical care teams in caring for sick and vulnerable patients.” And he says the pandemic has also made “an already close team of colleagues even closer—we look out for each other and our families.”

That team ethos, which first drew him to anaesthesia, will continue to inspire him, and, he hopes, those he teaches. “When I get up in the morning, I feel enthusiastic. I look forward to going to work with the team. Even when things don’t go smoothly, as a team we come together, we get going, and we do the best we can.”

Nominated by Alexander Malin

“I had the pleasure of working with Dr Djabatey for 18 months while employed at Liverpool Women’s NHS Foundation Trust as an anaesthetic registrar.

“He was there every step of the way to support both me and other juniors in the department. Whenever situations seemed at their worst, he had the unique ability to remain approachable and capable of providing positive, pragmatic, and supportive mentorship until the matter was resolved.

“His leadership skills and continued passion for his specialty have inspired many trainees to drive clinical practice forward in the trust.

“He encouraged me to develop projects that would otherwise have seemed too difficult to start, while giving me the confidence to strive to grow continually as an anaesthetist.

“During a meeting last year to celebrate the end of his presidency of the Liverpool Society of Anaesthetists, several consultant members described his legacy of warmth and support that has benefitted so many anaesthetists in the region.

“I hope to end my career as such a well respected, knowledgeable, hard working, and supportive clinician and leader as Dr Djabatey.”

  • Alexander Malin is an anaesthetic registrar at Liverpool Women’s NHS Foundation Trust

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