Mending our healthcare carbon footprint

Dr Scott Ma

Healthcare is remarkably overrepresented in Australia’s total carbon footprint breakdown, which puts anaesthetists in a unique position to help reduce emissions – precisely what Dr Scott Ma (BMedSc ’02, BM, BS(GradEntry) ’05) set out to do when pushing for a review on the gases used in anaesthetic practice.

Dr Ma, the Deputy Medical Unit Head of the Department of Children’s Anaesthesia at the Women’s and Children’s Hospital, has been instrumental in discontinuing the use of desflurane – an anaesthetic gas which, in an hour of use, produces the equivalent greenhouse gas of driving a car 300km. By comparison, the safe and effective alternative put in place would be equivalent to just 7km.

“For healthcare as a whole, we have an opportunity to identify ways to reduce low-value care,” Dr Ma says.

“Substantial carbon and financial savings could be achieved by omitting unnecessary pathology tests, without any detriment to health.

“Just this alone is estimated to reduce Australia’s emissions by over 8000 kilo tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent in one year.”

Healthcare waste is also seen as significant problem. The use of single-use products results in the considerable costs associated with raw material extraction, production/manufacturing, transportation and disposal.

“A return to reusable products, where it is safe to do so, and advocating for more circular economies, can assist healthcare in reducing its environmental (and financial) impact,” says Dr Ma.

Dr Ma’s interest in anaesthesia stemmed from a rural selective while he was a final year medical student, completing a six-week term in anaesthesia at Mt Gambier Hospital.

“Anaesthetising children comes with the added challenge of establishing trust of families,” Dr Ma says.

“Parents and caregivers need to feel that their child will be in safe hands when they are undergoing an operation.

“It is a privilege to have families entrust me with the care of their child.”

Dr Ma completed a fellowship in paediatric anaesthesia and pain management at the Royal Children’s Hospital, Melbourne. He returned to Adelaide as a consultant anaesthetist at Flinders Medical Centre which he commenced in 2013. He has been a consultant paediatric anaesthetist at the Women’s and Children’s Hospital since 2014.

Dr Ma continues to take an interest in supporting the profession’s effort to be environmentally sustainable, something he champions in his role of Councillor (board director) for the Australian and New Zealand College of Anaesthetists (ANZCA) and chair of the ANZCA Environmental Sustainability Network.

“Medicine is a rewarding career and it will take you on a journey to places you may not ever consider,” says Dr Ma.

“Take the opportunity to challenge yourself. See your failures as opportunities to grow and remember the reasons that drew you to medicine in the first place.”


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College of Medicine and Public Health Medicine

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