Following many years working shifts as a nurse in ICU at BC Children's Hospital, I resolved to find ways to help people mitigate the effects of shift work—whatever the profession or industry. I could see that it was one of the most serious occupational health issues that needs immediate attention. The cost of doing nothing is just too high, as you will discover when you read what we publish on this website.
I arrived in Canada from Fiji 42 years ago with a dream of working in a hospital. In 1980 I graduated from nursing school and started work as a Registered Nurse. I found that working 12-hour shifts was very detrimental to my health and my family life but, as a working mother, I felt I had little choice but to continue in this work until my children were older. It was not until 2000 that I was able to return to studying and, in 2005 I left nursing to pursue a new career as a Naturopathic Doctor.
Working as a nurse, in an Intensive Care Unit, was both physically and emotionally demanding. No matter how much I slept, how well I ate or how much I exercised, I never felt refreshed—even after days off. I also noticed the negative effects of shift work on my co-workers. Their persistent, underlying tiredness led to poor lifestyle choices—take-outs, fast food, and drinking too much coffee and Coca-Cola in an effort to stay alert. I even remember co-workers getting in car accidents when driving home after a night shift.
Eventually, I listened to my body and began to understand the importance of the body’s internal clock—the circadian rhythm— that has governed our sleep/awake cycle since beginning of time. It was telling me that I was going against the natural order and I was in danger of shortening my life.
I also could see, all around me, the effect of fatigue on patient, personal and public safety. The 12-14 hour shifts were fast-paced, high-stress and physically and mentally demanding. It was especially dangerous to be fatigued in this environment, where there was little room for error. I discovered that many studies show that fatigue-related error is the 3rd leading cause of patient death in hospitals.
How did you celebrate your 50th birthday? Dr Pushpa Chandra chose a rather remarkable way to mark her 50th year by running ultramarathons on seven continents! And she achieved no less than 5 first places in different categories and top 3 placings in the others.
For the uninitiated, these races are not like the shorter city marathons you sometimes see on TV. Many are 100km, in gruelling conditions, with the runner receiving no support along the way. Some are as long as 33 hours without a break. In her 50th year, Dr Pushpa ran in ultramarathons in these locations: Mount Everest, North and South America, New Zealand, Europe (Amsterdam), Africa, Antarctica and the North Pole.
Dr Pushpa started running as a way to mitigate the effects of shift work when she was a nurse at BC Children's Hospital. Running was the best way she could find to keep fit in a way that accommodated the shift working lifestyle.
It clearly worked! Despite work-related fatigue, she reached a level of fitness that enabled her to run the Canadian Marathon (3 hours 17 minutes) while doing shift work. Now a grandmother, Dr Pushpa continues to travel the world running and has build a successful business as a naturopathic physician specializing in integrative pediatric care and sports medicine, as well as speaking and doing charitable work.
Dr Pushpa Chandra is an active supporter of Plan Canada. Plan works to promote child rights and lift millions of children out of poverty is based around eight core areas.
Education: Learning is crucial for development and is one of the most powerful tools in breaking the cycle of poverty and beginning a cycle of progress. Plan works to ensure children, their families and communities get the knowledge and life skills they need to realize their full potential.
Health: Plan helps communities build clinics, train health care workers and invest in equipment and medicine so children can survive and grow up healthy and strong. Plan is committed to working with children, communities and partners to ensure children’s right to a healthy start in life.
Water and sanitation: Access to clean water, sanitation and hygiene is critical for the survival, development and well-being of children. Plan works with communities to improve access to safe drinking water and sanitary facilities year-round and during emergencies.
Protection: Violence against children has a devastating impact – threatening their survival, development and participation in society. Plan delivers targeted programs to address specific protection issues, like child trafficking, corporal punishment in schools, female genital cutting and child marriage.
Economic security: Millions of people struggle to meet their most basic daily needs, leaving them extremely vulnerable to economic shocks or disasters. Children are often the first to feel the effects, being forced to go hungry or leave school to earn an income for their family.
Emergencies: When disaster strikes, Plan mobilizes people and resources quickly, to ensure the immediate and long-term needs of affected children and their families are met.
Child participation: Children have the right to take part in decisions that affect their lives, but all too often their involvement is limited. Plan supports children by allowing them to exercise their rights as citizens, to express their views and participate as active members of their communities.
Sexual health, including HIV: Teen pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases affect millions of children and youth, and too often, it’s because they are denied the right to protect themselves. Plan’s awareness-raising and direct response programs help empower children and young people to realize their rights and achieve their full potential.