Reflections on the ESN/MAC combined conference

26 September 2022

Delegates share their experiences of this year's joint ANZCA Environmental Sustainability Network and Mackay Anaesthetic Community conference.


Story by Dr Ryan Williams, Dr Sabrina Chan, and Dr Vaishnavi Sridhar

The Mackay Anaesthetic Community (MAC) Meeting takes place each year in June at the beautiful Coral Sea Resort in Airlie Beach. This year’s conference was particularly special as it marked one of the first

conferences since the beginning of the pandemic where the MAC was able to welcome international delegates and, for the first time, was held as a joint meeting with the ANZCA Environmental Sustainability Network. The surrounding barrier reef and pristine blue waters not only made for a beautiful setting but also gave a tangible reminder of the importance of sustainability efforts in anaesthesia. As a new consultant and first year trainees, we were excited to be able to attend a national conference and hear what efforts are being made nationally to reduce the carbon footprint of anaesthetic practice. 

The conference bought together national and international experts in sustainable anaesthesia and environmental sciences to give delegates a broad understanding of the environmental impact of our practice and practical steps we can undertake in our day-to-day practice to reduce waste and our overall carbon footprint. Highlights included a poignant account of coral bleaching on the Great Barrier Reef secondary to climate change from Professor Mia Hoogenboom, a marine biologist from James Cook University, a series of practical changes we can make to our clinical practice to reduce our carbon footprints from Dr Cath Hellier (#DitchTheDes), and an account of sustainability efforts being made in one of Queensland’s largest Anaesthetic Departments at the Royal Brisbane and Women’s Hospital from Dr Kerstin Wyssusek. We also heard from Dr Lachaln McIver, the Tropical Diseases & Planetary Health Advisor at the Geneva headquarters of Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), gave us a detailed account of the impact global warming is having on the most vulnerable developing nations and what MSF is doing in response. 

Intertwined with these, were a range of academic topics that paved the way for the latest updates in clinical practice. They ranged from Dr Alvin Obed’s presentation on neuroanaesthesia including the advent of deep brain stimulators, an airway presentation by Dr Yasmin Endlich, a vascular update by Dr. David Sturgess, and a summary of the recent advances in acute and chronic pain modulation by Dr Richard Sullivan. These were well balanced with the events that brought the entire group together and finally enabled networking and socializing with the perfect backdrop that was Airlie Beach.

It was apparent that many delegates had faced similar roadblocks when trying to implement concrete sustainability initiatives in their departments; for example, local recycling plants not accepting tempered glass containing residue from drugs. The TRA2SH and Environmental Sustainability Network (ESN) networking meeting, allowed delegates to share their successes and failures in their departments. Many of us were blown away by the impact that Ms Renae McBrien, a sustainability consultant, has had on her Brisbane hospital. Her talk titled ‘Climate smart health – designing waste out of our clinical practice’ gave a step-by-step account of how she has successfully cut through departmental and hospital bureaucracy, to deliver a highly effective recycling program for her hospital (including waste from theatres)!  

The practical workshops were also a talking point of the conference. Delegates had the opportunity to practice Can’t Intubate, Can’t Oxygenate scenarios with 3D printed skulls and airways whilst suspended on a jetty over the crystal-clear Whitsundays waters. There was also the opportunity to learn and practice regional nerve blocks and eye blocks from experts in the field, and another brilliant workshop from chronic pain specialists on delivering an anaesthetic to chronic pain patients.    

Whilst the world has been adjusting to the challenges of COVID, some of our anaesthetic colleagues have had to also manage training, employment and parenthood all at the same time. In keeping with the theme of ‘adapting to change’, Dr Nicole Galletly highlighted the challenges of maintaining a healthy work-life balance throughout training and her early consultant life. She also beautifully depicted the impact of pregnancy and motherhood on the life of an anaesthetist in the age of the pandemic. With many young parents in the room and others for whom it was a distant memory, this was a very real conversation. It brought to light the various ways in which the college and departments around Australia have managed to provide support and flexibility for anaesthetists and anaesthetic trainees striving for the right work/life balance.

No conference is complete without an opportunity (or three) to network, meet like-minded colleagues, and enjoy the magnificent setting of Airlie Beach. Friday night kicked off the festivities with drinks and canapes over the water on the jetty. On Saturday afternoon, delegates had the opportunity to embrace tropical north Queensland’s winter sun and play some beach volleyball or participate in some additional networking whilst enjoying the sunset with some drinks on a cruise around the Whitsunday Islands. The final day of the conference coincided with World Environment Day which the conference embraced by serving a vegetarian lunch.  

The final presentations of the conference were led by junior doctors and gave them an opportunity to showcase research that they had undertaken to improve sustainability at their local hospitals. Presentations included audits of low flow volatile practices, efforts to improve the use of sharp bins, regional anaesthetic techniques, and a review of the most carbon neutral ways to attend national conferences.

From a new consultant’s perspective, I attended the conference in hopes of getting new ideas for sustainability projects for our own departments; it’s fair to say, I wasn’t disappointed. Innovative ideas about reducing consumables, efficient sorting solutions and community-based programs to reuse materials were presented. A huge part of building awareness and sharing knowledge was skilfully demonstrated by Dr Raj Pacchigar, Dr Scott Ma and the members of the TRA2SH group who have conducted various audits and sustainability projects across the country. It was fantastic to hear about the audits on the utilisation of sharps bins, blueys, drug trays, fresh gas flow and waste segregation across various departments.

From a trainee’s perspective, we have always had a sense that delivering an anaesthetic produced a lot of waste – particularly during COVID times. This joint meeting brought together experts and quantified exactly how much waste that is, what the cost is to our environment but most importantly, how we can reduce it with genuine changes to our practice. Whilst only a short three days, we have left the MAC excited and invigorated; excited to collaborate with further sustainability projects and invigorated to incorporate low flow sevoflurane, more TIVA and recycling into our practice. Whilst every anaesthetist should be interested in incorporating sustainability into their practice, the career-spanning impact that can be made by junior anesthetics trainees cannot be overstated.

The MAC has recorded all presentations and they are freely available; if you are interested in some practical steps to improve sustainability at an individual level and departmental level, they are well worth a listen.   

We would also like to acknowledge and thank Dr Suresh Singaravelu and Dr Scott Ma for co-convening the conference and Ms Kirsty O’Connor for coordinating.

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Last updated 12:08 11.10.2022