Family in focus

An old school addition to the Canberra neonatal ward is making a big difference to new parents and bubs. CASEY HAMILTON reports.

The neonatal intensive care ward has always been a place of high technology. Beeping machines and blinking screens monitor vital signs, letting parents and medical staff know how these tiny babies are going. Now Associate Professor Zsuzsoka Kecskes has added a humble webcam to the mix.

"The parents think it's fabulous," Kecskes says of the NICUCAM program, where webcams are placed above the babies' cribs so parents can monitor their babies from home. The clinical neonatologist and ANU Medical School lecturer developed NICUCAM after she heard of a similar project in Berlin.

"I thought it was a great idea. It was innovative, easy to do, technologically modern, and such a benefit to the families," she says.

Funded by ACT Health, the 10 cameras went live in 2010 making this free, web-based service the first of its kind in Australia.

"Not every parent can come every day to see their baby. Being able to see their baby reassures the parents, who get to know their baby and, of course, show them off to relatives."

Her family-focused outlook saw Kecskes named the 2014 ACT Australian of the Year for her work with NICUCAM and for including families in the design process of the new Centenary Hospital for Women and Children.

"It's important to include the family in projects like these. Neonatology is a young discipline. We are still learning how important families are for the health of the baby."

Kecskes fell in love with paediatrics while studying medicine in her native Germany.

"I don't know what it is about paediatrics but you either completely love it or you completely hate it," she laughs.

"It's fun!" she says. "It's fun to be a doctor and work with people. I love it - it's fabulous.

"But it's also tricky. It's not normal medicine where you can ask the patient for their history. We need to talk to their parents and often their older siblings as well. It's a real family thing that we do."

Kecskes is now setting about getting our next generation of doctors ready for what can be a demanding job.

"We're developing the third and fourth year Medical School theme called Professionalism and Learning, which is about mentorship, ethics, quality, safety and integrity. To me that is what being a doctor is about," she says.

"The way students are treated in Australia is so different to how I was treated in Germany.

"There is a lot more interaction, smaller classes and a much more personal context.

"It's a big step from being a student to being a doctor.

I want to give them the tools and the resilience to survive and become the kind of doctors we want them to be."

There's no doubt Kecskes will impart some of her own enthusiasm for medicine along the way.

This article appeared in ANU Reporter magazine Autumn 2014. Subscribe for free now.