Nina Yhap: Barbados dreaming

February 17, 2022

“To get here was my biggest challenge, travelling 10,000 miles, alone from Barbados. As any international medical graduate knows, it’s a fairly strict and rigorous process to get here. I came here alone, without family, but I had a goal in mind – my country had a goal in mind for me,” says Nina Yhap.

Soft spoken as she is, you can hear the resolve in Nina’s voice when she says, “I feel a very strong purpose to give back.”

Nina has been at Northern Health for the last two years receiving post-fellowship training to be a vascular and endovascular surgeon – the first of her kind when she returns to Barbados.

Her story is an amazing story that, “needs to be acknowledged when they occur in our lifetime,” says Iman Bayat, Head of the Vascular Surgery Unit at Northern Health.

Here’s how he tells it.

“First of all, from lower and middle income countries, where the main focus is just coping – you have this country with the foresight to sponsor a surgeon to become the first vascular and endovascular surgeon for her country. That too, a female surgeon in a male dominated field, globally.”

“Nina is selected through a strict and stringent selection process, which recognises her talents. She comes over here, trains very hard, and now goes back and takes the knowledge with her to set up this service.”

“For Northern Health to be part of this journey is just beautiful,” says Iman. “We must cherish these moments in our lifetime and hopefully fuel further endeavours going forward.”

“Global vascular health equity is an integral part of the ethical charter of the Vascular Surgery Unit at Northern Health,” says Iman.

“My fellow vascular surgeons, Mr David Goh, Mr Shrikkanth Rangarajan, and I are committed to doing what we can to bring the benefits of modern vascular surgery to as many underserved countries as we can.”

“Here, I’d like commend the Ministry of Health of Barbados for their future planning and investment in sponsoring Nina in preparation for the establishment of a modern vascular service.”

“Now that Nina’s training has come to an end – seeing her leave is bittersweet. Nina has been part of the Northern family for over two years, through COVID-19 and some of the hardest times in our history. We will truly miss her.”

He is not alone in his praise for Nina.

Jake Geertsema, Director, Department of Anaesthesia and Perioperative Medicine, says his department can, “wholeheartedly commend Nina for her time here as an exemplary Northern Health employee – calm under, at times, immense pressure, always respectful and friendly – even when she has been awake for significant periods of time!”

Nina takes back more than happy memories of her time here. She says, “I never imagined, two years ago, I would have the opportunity to learn so much.”

“It’s been a complete immersion in the best way and the experience has been more than I ever imagined.”

“What I know now is something I dreamed about but never thought I would get to do,” says Nina.

Asked to describe Northern Health, she says it is “welcoming and inclusive.”

She explains, “I never felt judged or rushed or not included.”

As for the Vascular Surgery Unit at Northern Health, Nina says there are no words to describe her experience.

“What Mr Bayat, Mr Rangarajan and Mr Goh and other clinicians at Northern have given me is priceless – they have given me the opportunity to learn so much; what they have instilled in me is really indescribable.”

“They will always be my mentors and friends,” says Nina.

Vascular Surgeon, Mr Shrikkanth Rangarajan and Vascular Fellow, Ms Nina Yhap performing a lower limb bypass procedure
Left to right: Mr Iman Bayat, Vascular Surgeon and Head of Unit, Ms Nina Yhap – Vascular Fellow, Mr David Goh – Vascular Surgeon and Natasha Josevski, Clinical Nurse Specialist

Nina Yhap was born in Barbados, graduated from the University of The West Indies and completed all of her postgraduate surgical training throughout the Caribbean.

“My country is very important to me. They have funded me, through primary, secondary, tertiary and quaternary – essentially my whole education,” she says.

After graduating as a general surgeon four years ago, Nina says, “it was future planning and development by the Barbados government that inspired them to invest in training me as a vascular and endovascular surgeon.”

Nina explains that back in Barbados, the major limb amputation rate, per capita is extremely high and concerning. There is also significant atherosclerosis (atherosclerosis is the thickening or hardening of the arteries).

“I saw major limb amputations happening two or three times a week in my hospital in Barbados. These are young people – in their 50s and 60s – who could have another 20 years of service, but are significantly limited by limb loss,” she says.

She also notes that the “prevalence of atherosclerosis is very similar to what the Indigenous population suffer from here in Australia.”

“Unfortunately, there are limited minimally invasive and endovascular surgical interventions being performed in my hospital in Barbados,” says Nina. “So, my government had the foresight to invest in future planning for lower limb salvage.”

After a rigorous interview process, Nina came to Northern Health on a one-year vascular surgery fellowship, sponsored by the Barbados Government. Her second year was supported by Northern Health and was spent learning more about endovascular and minimally invasive surgery.

Nina says, “As corny as it may sound, Northern Health has become home in a big way. But I’m going back home to Barbados for a bigger purpose.”

Nina’s dream is to establish a vascular surgery unit “and all that it entails – including allied health support and setting up a podiatry unit. I hope to have a hybrid theatre in the future too.”

“More importantly, I hope there will be doctors and surgeons like me, coming up. I hope to help train and collaborate with at least two or three vascular surgeons in the future and to be able to run an entire vascular surgery unit that serves the people of my home country who need it the most.”

“That is my dream,” says Nina.

Safe travel Nina and may all your dreams come true!

Featured image shows Mr Iman Bayat, Vascular Surgeon and Head of Unit, and Ms Nina Yhap, Vascular Fellow