St John's College old boy Gerard Fennessy's academic career began in Hastings, where he was the school's dux. Since then he's travelled the world as a doctor and was last week made a fellow of the College of Intensive Care Medicine of Australia and New Zealand, the peak body about intensive care medicine specialist training in Australasia. He has lived in Melbourne with his Australian wife for the past eight years.

1 Why did you study medicine?

It was kind of a fluke actually. I was doing very well at school, and nearing the end of my studies. I didn't really have plans - I was looking at drama school (as I did quite a few plays during my teen years) or becoming an electronic engineer like my dad. The leader of the Scout/Venturers group I was attending - Anne Hilton - encouraged me to apply to Medical School, as she thought I was destined for bigger things. So I applied, and got in, and was kind of swept away to Auckland before I knew it. Unfortunately I failed my first year of Medical School, but gained progressively better marks as I settled into life away from my hometown.

2 What will you be doing at Hawke's Bay Hospital next month?


I have an interest in educating young doctors, and one of the courses that we encourage doctors to do, prior to entering training to become a critical care specialist, is what's known as a BASIC course. This course sets doctors up with fundamental skills to deal with the sickest of the sick when they come in to hospital. I was fortunate that Dr Ross Freebairn, intensive care specialist and recent president of our college, had a spot available to train me up to be an instructor and kindly agreed to take me on board. I will take these skills back to the Austin Hospital in Melbourne and we are planning to run our own BASIC courses there.

3 In your opinion, how accurate are TV medical dramas?

Not very! Unfortunately I don't get a lot of time to watch TV these days, and I try to stay away from the medical dramas because my wife gets annoyed when I point out the inaccuracies. On a serious note, I think the medical dramas give the public an unrealistic expectation of what the medical profession can do, and the impact that particularly critical illness can have on patients and their families. There are very few "fairytale" outcomes in ICU. About 1 in 5 people who are admitted to intensive care die, and a larger number end up needing extensive rehabilitation or nursing home care. But that doesn't make great TV ...

4 Have you ever had any squeamish moments?

Many times. My sisters will quite gladly tell you about the time I visited one of them in hospital and fainted! And there are a number of anaesthetists at Hawke's Bay Hospital who have had to pick me up off the floor, and offer a glass of water, when I have fainted whilst watching surgery. Unfortunately I really don't like the sight of blood, or hand injuries! They make me squirm. However, when I get in the zone with a critically ill patient, that all goes out the window and I'm completely fine. Strange!

5 What do you miss most about Hawke's Bay while you're away?

I especially miss my family - I come from a large family: seven including my folks and 4.5 nephews. I love my Mum's cooking when we come over - she makes a great bacon and egg pie and pavlova! My dad makes some fantastic cider and I enjoy fishing with my brother. He even takes me out on plumbing jobs with him, to show me how a real man earns a crust! And of course my sisters spoil my son rotten. Hawke's Bay is a great place to bring up kids and far cheaper than Melbourne to live.