Photograph of Dr Adam Hastings preparing for surgery

Giving up the universe to provide patients with the world

How a science student stumbled on a career in medicine
Dr Adam Hastings is a Consultant Anaesthetist and Clinical Neurophysiologist at Westmead Hospital and program director of the clinical neurophysiology program at the University of Sydney.

Growing up, Adam Hastings was interested in physics and how the universe came to be. It was a logical choice then that after high school he enrolled in a Bachelor of Science majoring in physics. Little did he know it was an ill-considered biology subject that would lead him onto his real passion.

Adam didn’t do as well in physics as he’d hoped – finding it wasn’t the field he saw himself thriving in – not just academically, but socially.

What he did do well in was biology and he went on to do honours in protein biochemistry.

“During my honours year I found myself standing in the cold room at three in the morning talking to flasks of bacterial culture, and that’s when I knew I should study medicine.”

A career in medicine, specialising in anaesthesia

It has taken fifteen years of study for Adam to become an anaesthetist – eight years of university study and seven years of on the job training.

“I did my specialist anaesthetic training and sub-specialty training in cardiac anaesthesia and developed a simultaneous interest in neuroanaesthesia, coupled with working in retrieval medicine.

“The reason I chose both the cardiac and neurology fields is that both involve the most interaction between the surgeon and the anaesthetist.

“I am with the patient from the moment we start the process until the moment they’re in recovery. It’s a job that’s intellectually and spiritually rewarding, as well as physically demanding.

“Brain surgery can be quite anxiety inducing. If something goes wrong during an operation, things happen very quickly. The best part is coming through those scary moments as a team, and saving someone’s life.”

From student to teacher

Adam is now the Program Director for the University of Sydney specialist postgraduate courses in Clinical Neurophysiology. In these courses, there are two streams: one focusing on the diagnostic field (suitable for medical graduates interested in neurology and health and science graduates) and the other focusing on the intra-operative field (for medical graduates interested in anaesthetics and health and science graduates).

“The courses are very niche, but there’s increasingly a huge demand for qualified anaesthetists.

“What students learn is how to be part of a team and to build up strong communication skills so that in the operating theatre, everyone knows what's going on.

“I’ve seen a lot of growth in the students, people who have matured and I’ll be very pleased to see the first cohort graduate next week.”

Providing patients with the world

Even though he didn’t get to explore the universe, Adam has been able to provide his patients with the world.

“I keep a crystal globe on my desk at home, which was given to me by the wife of a patient who’d had a stroke. His case was very complex and we spent a lot of time and care to get him back to a level where he could function in the community.

“The woman said she gave me the globe because I had given her back her husband, her world. It serves as a reminder to me that the kind of care anaesthetists provide is priceless.”

27 April 2018

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