Cristina Diaz-Navarro smiles as she sits on the other side of the desk. Whether she’s talking about the very technical elements of her career as a consultant anaesthetist, her interesting work in simulation training or her work-life balance, she speaks with a cheer in her voice.
Originally from Spain, Diaz-Navarro came to the UK 17 years ago having completed her medical degree back home. As soon as she arrived in the country, she began her anaesthetic training. Before too long, her first child came along which meant that she moved to training part time and this afforded her the chance to begin a career in education.
“I’ve always been interested in teaching and so when I got to the right stage of training, I applied to be a lecturer in Cardiff University. I was appointed as a lecturer for one year but because I was part time, I was in post a while longer than that,” she explains. “That’s when I started teaching simulation and supporting faculties.”
Her training has allowed her to move around the UK a lot. Before settling in Cardiff, she also trained in Warwick, Sheffield and Bristol. “I’ve been all over!” she continues. “It’s been a really good experience to get to work with people who have different approaches to anaesthesia.”
Of course, being from Spain originally, this moving around also gave her the chance to learn a lot about the English language – which she now speaks perfectly.
“My grammar was good and I had a pretty good understanding of most common words but I cannot say that I was bilingual when I arrived. I had to work on that,” she says with a brilliant laugh. “Medical terms are easy! What was hard was the slang. When I was on the hospital wards, I was mostly working on my language. But when I went home to the doctor’s accommodation, I would carry on working on my language because people who were having a good time would speak in a strange way that I was not familiar with. It took work! I keep my Spanish though because my daughters speak it.”
Teaching and learning being central to all of Diaz-Navarro’s work, she is now combining the two in the Department of Anaesthetics, Intensive Care and Pain Medicine at Cardiff University.
“We are in an anaesthetic skills room which will be used for practising airway skills and learn to deal with difficult clinical situations that we might encounter,” she says showing a room full of medical equipment and gurneys. “It is important because when things go wrong in anaesthesia, the outcome can be absolutely disastrous. The focus of our training is not to get to that point. These situations are rare in clinical practice but we can make them happen in the simulation room so that the trainees can get better at managing them if they ever happen.”
The simulation environments, patient simulation training and research which Diaz-Navarro has helped to develop – including the design of the Cochrane Simulation Centre which was completed in 2011- have received international recognition and will facilitate better training for a wide variety of specialties.
“Although most of our research has been done here in the simulation centre, we’re thinking of commencing in situ simulation training which means taking the mannequin out to wherever the clinical staff practise,” she explains of future plans. “If you want surgeons to practise, they go to theatre. A&E doctors train in A&E. This move to in situ simulation is a big thing for us. It’s not a new thing but it’s quite important.”
But what makes Diaz-Navarro so special – aside from her numerous professional achievements to date – is the way that she balances her working and personal life with such mastery.
“I work quite hard. I’ve got a good support system from friends, childcare arrangements and a very supportive husband as well. I suppose that I like to do my best when I’m with patients and when I’m in office time I try to be efficient and do what I can. I’m proud of what I’ve managed to achieve in the last five years,” she explains.
“We’ve done a lot in terms of developing simulation education and simulation centres, but it doesn’t impact on my family life that much. When I go home, I’m there! The children are happy to have me there and if I have anything left over to do, I do it when they go to bed,” she continues. “When I come to work, I’m very efficient with my office hours and I think that’s worked well for me. It is what it is. I don’t think of it as something special, it’s just something I do.”
She adds that using a tablet device has allowed her to balance better: she can go through e-mail during quiet theatre time or she can answer them while she’s sitting with her children in the evening.
As if this wasn’t a good enough working ethic, in closing, Diaz-Navarro offers the following as a way to be a happy professional:
“I suppose I could say that if there is something outside of clinical practice that you enjoy, you should pursue it because it makes you a more complete professional rather than taking away from clinical practice. It just makes you a more broad-minded individual. For me, it certainly makes clinical life more pleasurable having the non-clinical challenges.”