Dr. Ayesha Shaikh

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Dr. Ayesha Shaikh

Dr. Ayesha Shaikh

Having practiced obstetrics and gynecology in Santa Barbara for the past 20 years, Dr. Ayesha Shaikh (rhymes with “bake”) has a hard time walking through town without someone recognizing her.

Her daughter Sarah, 20, a student at Middlebury College, says she can’t go anywhere without someone recognizing her mom.

Her husband of 25 years, Mohammed, an engineer who owns Image-X, frequently quips that he’s “the only Indian Muslim who walks six feet behind his wife.”

He might have to widen that perimeter in January, when his wife’s network will expand even further as she takes over as Cottage Hospital’s Chief of Staff.

Her new assignment, to serve as a liaison between the hospital’s administration and its medical team, comes at one of the most exciting and tumultuous times in the facility’s history, as construction gets underway on a $500 million new hospital, which is not expected to be completed until 2013.

As anyone who’s been through a home remodel can testify, living through years of construction can make you feel like taking a hammer to the closest available target, and Dr. Shaikh will be right there to absorb the blows.

“You know how physicians are,” she said. “If they want to be heard they can be heard. … I think I’ll be hearing a lot of, ‘where’s my parking!'”

Soothing frazzled nerves comes naturally for Dr. Shaikh, having delivered thousands of babies over the years (she stopped counting after her first 250). She hasn’t lost a father yet, although there have been a few close calls.

“You know when they start turning funny shades of color, you say, ‘okay, there’s a chair, why don’t you take a seat and sit down. I’ll take care of the baby and the mom,'” laughs Dr. Shaikh, her lilting Indian/British accent having the desired calming effect.

“It’s amazing how these guys can talk and do all this Rambo-style stuff and when it comes to delivery they become like little ducks … They see that little baby and they burst into tears.”

The joy in sharing these moments is one of the reasons why Dr. Shaikh plans to continue delivering babies, despite her new administrative responsibilities at the hospital.

“It’s fulfilling — I don’t want to say you feel great, but you feel nice, especially when things go well and it’s someone who you’ve seen through a lot of difficult times. You just feel so good.”

Originally published in Santa Barbara Magazine in winter 2006.

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