Stories from the Southcoast Frontlines: Dr. Anil Shukla

In addition to all of its other impacts on society, let alone on health care, the pandemic has changed how Emergency Departments operate on a fundamental level. When COVID-19 first hit the region one year ago, Dr. Anil Shukla was one of the first #SouthcoastFrontlines heroes to face it, and he immediately understood his team was heading into uncharted territory.

“At first, when we didn’t know anything, we were getting reports out of China and the news coverage out of Italy of how devastating and scary it was; honestly we were scared,” says Dr. Shukla, MD, FACEP, Chair of Emergency Medicine at St. Luke’s. “We didn’t know if everyone was going to get sick, or if our lives were on the line – there was legitimate concern at that level.”

Putting his fears aside, he chose to concentrate on what he could control. As a leader, he knew it was important to set an example; lean into the challenge; and keep the goals, direction, and motivation for the team intact. To protect his family – and dedicate himself to fighting COVID-19 in the community – Dr. Shukla lived on his sailboat for the first three months of the pandemic.

Establishing strong communication and collaboration was essential in battling the first surge of the pandemic. The team was able to come together to coordinate an effective response.

“It was probably the most profound experience of collegiality at every level,” Dr. Shukla says. “From the Southcoast administration, and the command center, down to the different departments. Clearly, the people who were most affected and at risk were those in the Emergency Department, inpatient units, and critical care.”

“The strong culture of the Emergency Department flourished in the face of this threat”

The strong culture of the Emergency Department flourished in the face of this threat, Dr. Shukla says. With variables shifting day by day, if not hour to hour, it was essential to remain organized and agile in response to the virus.

“We turned my office into essentially a war room,” Dr. Shukla says. He maintained regular and clear communications through the ranks with a daily newsletter to keep track of any new information and updates.

When the first surge started subsiding, his team realized that most measures were working and that they could manage the virus in the moment. Dr. Shukla said it was “pretty amazing” to see everyone respond so quickly and adjust to this new reality. Although a lot was learned from the first surge, the second surge of COVID-19 hit much harder and the complexity of the issue increased – but so, too, did battle-tested workflows, supply lines, and medical advances.

“Finally, we’ve reached the stage where vaccinations are becoming available. They are a huge morale booster,” Dr. Shukla says. After months of devastating capacity, Shukla and his team continue to tackle challenges such as the new variant, persistently fighting the virus day by day.

Dr. Shukla began his position as the Chair of Emergency Medicine at St. Luke’s Hospital in December 2019, but has been a part of this group for more than eight years. He previously served as the Quality Assurance Director and Vice Chair of Emergency Medicine.

Family and friends were and continue to be a huge source of support to Dr. Shukla while battling the pandemic. Many friends brought him dinner and offered to help while he was living on his boat and working 12-hour days in the Emergency Department. When at home, he, his wife, and their three children enjoy staying active, snowboarding, and spending summer days sailing on the water.

Thank you, Dr. Shukla.

For everything you need to know about COVID-19 please visit southcoast.org/covid19.