Not all heroes wear capes. Sometimes they wear stethoscopes with honour. Like Dr Barry Smith, Karl Bremer Hospital’s medical manager, who recently bagged the silver award in the category for Best Doctor of the Year at the national Batho Pele Excellence Awards.
The awards honour public servants who go the extra mile in delivering exceptional quality services to South Africans.
Smith received recognition for his work in the clinical management of the Brackengate Hospital of Hope. He further played a key role as the medical manager at the Karl Bremer Hospital in Cape Town during the second wave of Covid-19 in December 2020, a period when the hospital transformed ordinary wards into Covid-19 wards to save lives.
He was honoured along with other public servants under the theme, “Combatting the Covid-19 pandemic through a Batho Pele focus, Putting People First”.
Smith describes his work during the pandemic as one of the most meaningful contributions he’s made to public healthcare.
“Some of the highlights of my career has been my involvement in the Swartland Hospital fire disaster response and recovery and the contribution to the Covid-19 response at Karl Bremer Hospital and the Covid-19 intermediate care facilities (CTICC Hospital of Hope and the Brackengate Intermediate Care Facility).”
The journey was never easy
Being a manager during the pandemic did not come without challenges, says Smith.
“Working in the healthcare services comes with a high degree of uncertainty and unpredictability, mainly because this is a business about people. Dealing with such complexity, forces you to value your team members and to encourage teamwork and it requires an ongoing openness to learning and improving to meet the healthcare demands of the communities we serve,” he adds.
As a young medical student at Stellenbosch University, his desire was to save lives and to improve healthcare in our country.
“I have always been fascinated by the natural sciences and I am energised by interacting with people. I saw medicine as the perfect field where humanity and science meet when I studied MBChB (Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of Surgery) at Stellenbosch University.”
His passion for making a difference continues to drive him and now Smith and his team take on pressures in the Karl Bremer Hospital Emergency Centre.
Healthcare under pressure
The hospital is often under severe pressure due to an influx of people accessing healthcare via the emergency centre. Residents experiencing minor ailments have been encouraged to first access healthcare from their nearest primary healthcare facility to reduce pressure on the EC.
“The pressure in the emergency centre is usually a good gauge of what is happening in the community. We saw this clearly with the various Covid-19 waves and levels of lockdown restrictions. Substance abuse remains the highest contributing factor to the extremely high mental health burden we deal with.”
“Currently, we are experiencing a rise in patients with complicated disease, likely following the impact Covid-19 had on patients’ healthcare seeking behaviour and access to services. Under such conditions, it is essential to identify and prioritise those patients who need true emergency and urgent care at hospital level.
Despite these challenges, Smith says his career comes with many rewards and he hopes to continue delivering safe healthcare beyond Covid-19.
“The most rewarding part of my job is being involved in any process that brings positive change. I am privileged to work close enough to the frontline to experience the impact of clinical service delivery and my position as medical manager also allows me to observe and influence the functioning of the broader health system. I would like to be able to say at the end of my career that I have done the greatest good for the greatest number of people and, on this journey, that I have inspired those around me to contribute to their full potential.”
Teamwork makes dreamwork
Smith adds that his journey to becoming a leader in healthcare was made possible through support from his loved ones and colleagues.
“I owe this award to my family that has been my biggest support and who have kept me grounded in all my undertakings. The remarkable team I work with has inspired me in so many ways through their self-less commitment, caring attitude and competence.”
“I am thankful for the many extraordinary role models in my career that have demonstrated compassionate leadership towards me, who have trusted me enough to live out my potential and supported me whether I succeeded or failed. The leader I would like to be is one that is grounded in his team, who acts with discernment and wisdom and achieves a greater good through understanding and kindness. During the pandemic I have been inspired by people who have shown these qualities.”
Smith shares a quote that guides his work, “You are most yourself when you are wrapped up in your purpose, not your position.”
Last year, Smith received the prestigious gold award for exemplary leadership at the annual Western Cape Government Service Excellence Awards. Karl Bremer Hospital CEO, Jonathan Lucas, has praised the medical manager for his dedication and passion to delivering excellent healthcare.
“On behalf of Karl Bremer Hospital, we want to congratulate Dr Smith on this special achievement following his national award. He truly embodies the values and characteristics of an exemplary public servant. Having been recognised at a national level for a job well done mirrors his work ethics and his desire for excellence both as a manager and a clinician. We are all super proud of him!”