Dee Naidu, PA Lead at Sunnybrook Hospital on the frontlines of COVID-19


The information we know about coronavirus is rapidly evolving and we are learning new things every day, sometimes multiple times a day. We are looking to and learning from our colleagues in countries like Singapore and Hong Kong where they have been successful in flattening the curve. What the numbers show is that social distancing, ramping up testing and practicing hand hygiene and following proper IP&C procedures actually work.

Sunnybrook saw the first Canadian COVID-19 case back in January and since, there have been drastic changes to our practices:
  • patient visitation is prohibited until further notice
  • screening at hospital entrances
  • all our student learners have been placed on hold
  • we have dedicated COVID wards, including an intensive care unit with the creation of a dedicated interprofessional team
  • PPE use and a focus on conservation; wearing a single mask for the care of droplet precaution patients throughout the day
  • all in-person meetings have been converted to online
  • practicing social distancing at work
  • changing out outpatient clinics to virtual visits or telephone visits and getting creative with assessments
  • ramping down elective surgeries, only day procedures being done – this can be very difficult at a large cancer centre
  • avoidance of laparoscopic surgeries due to increased risk of aerosolization of coven-19 virus particles
  • closures to hospital amenities such as food services and our hospital’s gym
  • all non-essential research projects have been placed on hold
  • all non-clinical staff are either being re-deployed to other areas or being asked to work from home if possible
  • all departments are preparing for functioning on significantly reduced workforce capacity as contingency plans are developed

PAs at Sunnybrook on the frontlines of COVID-19

“Our physician assistants at Sunnybrook are on the front lines. The PAs in the ED have been performing COVID assessments and swab testing since the very beginning!”


Although several assessment centres have now been dedicated to testing, these are unfortunately not open 24 hours a day and our ED PAs continue to respond to this gap by assuming the risks involved with exposure during assessments and testing. Furthermore, unstable patients require emergency department services and continue to be taken care of by our Physician Assistants. Our Sunnybrook PAs have been highly adaptable, shown initiative and leadership during these unpredictable times.

We have a close group of physician assistants here and my goal as professional leader is to make sure everyone feels supported and connected to each other.

Canadian Physician Assistants at Toronto’s Sunnybrook Hospital on the frontlines of COVID-19

Hospital Leadership during COVID-19

Leadership at our institution has been quite proactive. I think its difficult to present information in a way that does not provoke panic. We’ve had multiple town halls hosted by our CEO and senior leadership to answer questions and provide education. But the landscape of healthcare in the COVID era is ever-changing and everyone shares the same sentiments of some frustration. Mixed messages from Government that are not aligned with hospital institutions has caused confusion. We have an intranet webpage for everything COVID related, but there can be a sense of information overload, its sometimes difficult to identify which information is new and most up-to-date. Further, the recommendations are varied across all of our healthcare institutions without a real consensus.

Next Steps

We need our Governments and Public Health sector to do better.

We need to be more creative about how we utilize our services across healthcare and beyond as we navigate this unfamiliar territory.

We need to ramp up testing and processing capacity and to mobilize PPE to hospitals where we need them.

We need the public to understand that their actions matter and have consequences. Reach out to your networks and help flatten the curve.

We also need a more unified front with consensus across the board about recommendations, as institutions we are still working in silos when we should be working more collaboratively not just with our own nation but beyond.

We are thankful to all of our healthcare colleagues on the frontlines with us, but also really thankful for everyone else working in essential services and to our families who continue to support us every day.

About Dee Naidu, CCPA

Dee is a Canadian Certified Physician Assistant working in Acute Care Surgery at Sunnybrook Hospital. She is the Physician Assistant Professional Lead at Sunnybrook Hospital. She is a graduate of McMaster’s PA Program.

Learn about being a PA in Acute Care Surgery