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Hunterdon News

From the Frontline: Hunterdon Medical Center’s Hospitalists

April 10, 2020

An interview with  Shehzana Ashraf, MD,  Medical Director
Hunterdon Medical Center Hospitalist Services

What is combatting this illness like and is the hospital gaining any ground on it?

It is like being on a battlefield or a movie. The disease is novel, it can cause serious illness and death and there are no proven therapies. There have been many heart-wrenching moments while treating patients.  It’s also sad when we need to have difficult conversations with the families on phone and not face to face, holding their hands and giving them hugs. No one should die alone without their families at their bedside.  Nevertheless, we are trying our best to stay strong and fight the enemy until the bitter end. The senior leadership has been working tirelessly for weeks to prepare our organization for crisis and I am hopeful that together we will get through it. They have taken the physical, mental and emotional well-being of staff very seriously and made endless support available.

How many hours a day are you working?

I don’t really count hours; I get to work early and stay there as long I need to – I’m available 24/7. My day could be anywhere from 12 to 16 hours long.

How are you keeping your family safe?

My family is all on the front line. My husband works at a hospital in NYC and takes a train to work every day.  My daughter is a resident physician rotating in the ICU of a busy hospital. I do worry about my family members who are on frontline as well as my other son who is asthmatic, but we feel very privileged and honored to be able to take care of people at their weakest and most vulnerable state. We follow all the precautions.

What supplies do you need?

We are very lucky to have the appropriate protective gear provided by the hospital. Every day we get N95 masks, goggles, head-covers, gloves, and gowns. Every patient gets a surgical mask.

How concerned are you about your own health?

With the proper precautions and PPE I am not concerned. One thing is that with a mask on for several hours it’s hard to keep hydrated, but I try to take extra fluids after taking it off. I keep up with my daily intake of vitamin C, elderberry, zinc and black seeds to help.

How has the surrounding community supported the hospital and what does that mean to you?

The support from our community has been overwhelming.  We’ve had delicious meals and gifts delivered, masks donated, as well as endless wishes and prayers. It really helps to get us through our long and tough days, knowing we have so many people who care about us and our impact. There has also been immense internal support from fellow physicians and residents helping us in the hospital to take care of the increasing volume of patients.

Has anything in your training prepared you for this?

My residency training and past experience was physically, mentally and emotionally very strengthening. I trained through the AIDS crises. During the first year of my private hospitalist practice, I worked up to 120 hours a week with no days off for months straight, not being able to see my kids for several days straight. At this point, no amount of work or duration of hours scares me. My training and experience has given me the ability to prioritize, multitask, keep calm, and support my patients during crisis situations.

What advice can you give to relatives or friends who have a patient in the hospital?

I am grateful for their trust in us for taking care of their loved ones. These are scary times for families, but just know that we will continue to do our absolute best for each and every one of you. There is emotional and spiritual support available for both you and your loved ones. Please take care of yourself, stay home, wash your hands frequently, cover your coughs and sneezes, and follow your physician’s advice.


Left to right: Dr. Mimi Mak, Hospitalist on left, Dr. Cecelia Perez, Hunterdon Medical Center Resident, and Dr. Ashraf, Medical Director, Hunterdon Medical Center Hospitalist Services.



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