For 30 years anaesthetist Mike Miller has been the last person thousands of people saw before they went into the operating theatre at Whanganui Hospital and usually the first they saw when it was all over.

By his calculation, Dr Miller reckons he must have anaesthetised half the population of Whanganui in that time.

He studied to be a doctor in his South African homeland specialised in anaesthetics before coming to Whanganui in 1985.

Before then he and his wife June had travelled and he had worked in England and more remote places such as the outer Hebridean islands off Scotland.

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Back in South Africa, he found work at Baragwanath Hospital in Soweto, still one of the largest hospitals in the world.

"We had the best of First World medicine but sadly the Third World diseases. And there was a lot of violence. We were dealing with people with stab wounds, and were doing a lot of open-heart surgery," he said.

But seeing an advertisement in a medical journal changed all that.

"There was a Kiwi anaesthetist who wanted to do a swap for a like position in South Africa and he was from Whanganui. Our bosses agreed. We swapped literally everything - houses, cars, even pets and children's school uniforms for three months here.

"We just loved that but had no thoughts of coming back because it was so hard to get a job here," he said.

The Millers returned to Soweto to find violence had escalated. It was a time before Nelson Mandela was released and people were turning up at hospital with wounds inflicted by police and gangs.

"Then one morning I got a phone call from Whanganui saying they had a position. It was big decision to make but we haven't looked back for one moment."

In the past 30 years he received plenty of job offers but he had a secure position and his wife had a teaching job at St Georges School.

"We just loved the lifestyle. Whanganui is simply the most underrated place. I'm sure more would come here if they had job opportunities."