Listen: Dr Mithila Zaheen shares the joys and challenges of working as a doctor during the COVID-19 pandemic. Image supplied by Western Sydney Local Health District.
The last 12 months have been remarkably difficult for health professionals, but imagine entering the medical field in 2020 to begin your career as a doctor, only to be experiencing a pandemic two months later.
That was the reality for Dr Mithila Zaheen, a junior doctor at Blacktown Hospital. Also a finalist for Blacktown City Woman of the Year, Mithila has a heart for people. She cares deeply about her patients, but also volunteers in her (very limited) spare time to increase health education within the refugee and migrant communities.
Originally from Bangladesh, Mithila’s family migrated to New Zealand when she was only two months old, before settling in Western Sydney. When it came time to choose a career path, Mithila had no shortage of inspiration to enter into medicine.
“My parents are doctors themselves and their first-ever job was actually at Westmead Hospital,” Mithila told Sam Robinson.
“It’s kind of a bit of a family tradition,” she laughed.
Mithila’s siblings are also in the medical field – her younger sister is studying medicine, and her brother is also a junior doctor at Blacktown Hospital.
“We’ve been going through our entire intern year together which has been lovely,” she said.
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When the pandemic began in March of last year, Mithila had only been working as a doctor for mere weeks.
“Twenty-twenty was incredibly difficult for everybody. It was something that none of us had ever dealt with before. So with that comes a lot of uncertainty in the hospital system,” she said.
“We had lots of changes to our timetables, our rostering, we were working lots of long hours on the frontline.”
However, despite the immense challenges and uncertainty, the pandemic has only reaffirmed Mithila’s reasons for pursuing a medical career.
“When we come back to why we are doing this in the first place, it definitely affirmed that we’re doing this to help other people, to help our patients.
“And while it was scary, it definitely reminded us that this is a position of privilege to be able to help people in the middle of a pandemic, to know what’s going on. It’s definitely enriched my career and experience as a doctor.”
“When we come back to why we are doing this in the first place, it definitely affirmed that we’re doing this to help other people, to help our patients. And while it was scary, it definitely reminded us that this is a position of privilege to be able to help people in the middle of a pandemic, to know what’s going on. It’s definitely enriched my career and experience as a doctor,” – Dr Mithila Zaheen
Mithila also appreciated the support of the wider community during the pandemic, frequently being stopped in public to be thanked for her service.
“There was this one time I remember, I was in my scrubs on the way to work, trying to do my groceries. I heard somebody say ‘thank you’ and I looked over and there was a gentleman, he said ‘Thank you. Thank you for so much for your service’.
“And that just made my day. It was really heart warming to see not just everybody in the hospital [support us], but to see the support from the wider community,” Mithila said.
When she isn’t at the hospital, Mithila can be found volunteering locally – teaching health education classes to underserved communities with The Water Well Project, a cause she is extremely passionate about.
“The Water Well Project is a health promotion charity run by medical and allied health professionals that basically focuses on improving the health of migrant, refugee and asylum seeker communities,” she said.
“You’re linked up with a community to deliver an education session. These topics can range from women’s health, mental health, there’s a lot now on the COVID-19 pandemic, a lot about the vaccine. I find it really rewarding to be able to be a part of delivering this kind of education and having that connection with the community.”
Despite her busy schedule, Mithila insists that she still has plenty of spare time to pursue her own interests.
“I’ve recently gotten back into the gym, I play a bit of ukelele. My brother and I, we often have some jam sessions at home. I’m also a bit of a true crime fanatic, so I have those podcasts on repeat.”
Listen to the full interview with Dr Mithila Zaheen in the player above. Find out more about The Water Well project here.