Dr. Thanh Neville is an ICU physician and researcher at multiple local hospitals

Dr. THANH NEVILLE, Photo credit: Margaret Sison

Dr. Thanh Neville, a critical care and pulmonary doctor at Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center and UCLA Santa Monica Medical Center, always knew she wanted to help those in need; although at first, she didn’t know which sector of the medical field she wanted to pursue.

“I was really fascinated by a field that involved every organ system and the whole person,” Neville said. “I think it is very exciting to be at the patient’s most critical and vulnerable moments, so critical care not only provides this dynamic aspect of medicine, but also an avenue where you can be with patients and families in their most vulnerable moments and help them through that.”

A graduate of the David Geffen School of Medicine at the University of California, Los Angeles, Neville has worked at UCLA for 21 years. She enjoys working at both locations, but appreciates the smaller and more community-centric feel of UCLA Santa Monica Medical Center.

“One of the reasons I choose to go to Santa Monica is because I am able to do a lot more hands-on care with patients, and work directly with patients and nurses,” Neville said. “But I’ve seen a lot of goodbyes over Zoom, a nurse holding an iPad so that a family can grieve, and no matter how many times I see that, it’s still very jarring and heart breaking. There is no denying that COVID-19 has changed everything, and has changed every one of our lives, especially the health care workers.”

It is no surprise that working in the ICU during the pandemic has taken an emotional and physical toll on everyone in the medical field.

“There is no doubt that, especially in the beginning of the pandemic, we are putting ourselves at risk,” Neville said. “It’s not a secret that health care workers get infected more than the general population being front and center, exposed like we are.”

Neville recounted one of her most difficult days in the ICU, the day the U.S. Capitol was stormed in Washington, D.C.
“I remember coming home around 9 p.m. on my most horrible day in the ICU, I had no idea what was going on because I was intubating patients and it was so crazy in the ICU,” Neville said. “As I drove home I was listening to NPR and I just wanted to cry. But at the same time, I thought, ‘You’re going to be so tired, it’s going to take up a lot of time if you cry, you’ve worked so many hours and now you can get some rest so you can get back to the ICU tomorrow,’ so I held it in.”
Despite these difficulties, Neville has found comfort in the pride she has for her field and the support of colleagues and loved ones.

“The things that really help us are the support from our colleagues, the fact that we really are not in this alone, the comradery has really been significantly stronger amongst us and I think that our support systems is really important,” Neville said.

Neville has taken on journaling and writing essays as new hobbies during these uncertain times. She has had an essay published in The Huffington Post about her experiences in the ICU.

But her selflessness doesn’t stop there. Neville is also co-founder of the 3 Wishes Program at both medical centers. The program was designed to help celebrate and dignify the lives of terminally ill patients. It has helped fulfill wishes like bringing a mariachi band into a patient’s room and creating a special wedding ceremony in the hospital.

“As an ICU doctor, I feel proud and kind of privileged that I get to be in a position where I can be helpful,” Neville said. “This is not something that I can sit out on, and I am glad that as an ICU doctor, I can’t sit on the side lines.”

For more information, visit uclahealth.org/3wishes

— Sofia Santana