UCSF Sustainability Stories

Deborah Fleischer, Green Impact, October 2017

UCSF Dr. Seema Gandhi: Winner of the 2017 UCSF Sustainability Award in the Faculty Category

    Photo Credit: Marco Sanchez

For 2017, the Sustainability Award in the Faculty Category went to Seema Gandhi MD, UCSF Associate Professor in Anesthesia for her efforts to reduce the carbon footprint and environmental impacts in the perioperative area. Gandhi, nominated by doctors Jacqueline Leung, MD, and Arun Prakash, MD, PhD, explored three areas of concern: operating room (OR) energy use, perioperative waste, and anesthesia gas reduction.

With the ultimate goal of improving energy efficiency and decreasing carbon emissions, Gandhi engaged with other members of the medical center to optimize temperature control in the ORs and data mine electronic medical records. Gandhi most recently completed a patient transfer matt reprocessing project and led a team that showed that roughly $400,000 per year could be saved if the collection and reprocessing of these matts were conducted in an optimal manner. She has presented her data to the anesthesia department at Grand Rounds and in other forums and has inspired numerous residents and other faculty to participate in this project. Her team was awarded the “Great Save Award” in March 2017 for this work.

For the past three years, Gandhi has served as a mentor to Carbon Neutrality Initiative (CNI) Fellows and has encouraged them to think of their role in decreasing carbon emissions to protect public health. Her role illustrates her devotion to helping UCSF attain its goal of becoming carbon neutral by 2025, while also inspiring others to do the same.

In Conversation with Seema Gandhi

We had the chance to connect with Dr. Gandhi about her efforts and personal interest in sustainability:

  1. What sparked your interested in sustainability?
    I am very fortunate to be born and raised in a family with modest resources in India. My parents always instilled mindfulness in every action and choice we make. “Do not waste anything, only use as much as you need,” are my parents words I hear in my head.  We grew learning to conserve water and electricity and during my medical training in India, we worked with limited resources to provide the best care we could for our patients. Our educators and mentors always encouraged us to consider the financial impact of our choices and the social impact of our decisions.

    After my marriage, I moved to London, UK, and practiced anesthesia as a resident for three years. That experience has proven invaluable; I had the opportunity to work within a socialized health care system and provide the highest quality of care in a developed nation, yet being mindful of the economic and ecological impacts of our practice and always working with a global and social mindset. My husband’s job moved us to US, and I graduated from UCSF in 2009. I have been on UCSF’s faculty ever since. I believe I work at one of the premier institutions not only in the country, but globally and we provide some exemplary patient care and outstanding education at all levels. I think there is plenty of opportunity to include sustainability in our curriculum, clinical practice, and in every choice we make, everyday.

  2. Why do you believe sustainability is relevant to those working in ORs at UCSF?
    It is vital we incorporate sustainability in aspects of perioperative care. Operating rooms are significant contributors to the green house gases released from hospitals. At UCSF, our diversion rates have decreased in the last few years implying we are generating more waste and adding to the landfill. There is a great team of motivated and dedicated individuals in the perioperative services and it is a great place to start and lead these efforts within the medical center.

  3. What one call to action do you have to other faculty, staff and students working in the OR?
    My key call to action is, “Use only what you need!” Mindfulness about every choice big or small might seem small at an individual level, but during one’s entire career the effects will be cumulative and consequential.

  4. What achievement are you most proud of?
    I am proud that after three years of hard work, I believe, I have succeeded in drawing focus to issues related to sustainability on the perioperative map. I have been invited to present at Nursing/ Anesthesia and Surgical Grand Rounds and it is a testament to increasing awareness and enthusiasm toward this critical issue.

    At a departmental level, I am proud to have raised awareness about the global warming potential of anesthesia gases.While these are baby steps considering what I would like to achieve, the increasing interest is encouraging. I have included sustainability in resident education, clinical practice, and it is my current area of research.

  5. What is next for you in regarding to sustainability efforts in the OR?
    I would love to see the medical center and perioperative leadership allocate resources and support the formation of a multidisciplinary Perioperative Committee on Sustainability. My vision for this committee would be to focus on reduction, reusing, and recycling.

    While there are currently efforts we are involved in to decrease what we send to the landfill, I think critically looking at our practice and identifying areas for improvement, starting at procurement, reprocessing, and disposal are all vital. As a leader in healthcare, we owe it to our patients and the society to incorporate ‘greener practices’ in our daily workflow and as a training institution, we can affect the behavior of future generations by instilling sustainability early on in their careers.