The Northland DHB celebrated Anaesthesia Day by sharing the story of Dr Randall Cork, MD, PhD, the man who runs the pain clinic in Kaitaia, and is changing the lives of his patients.
Officially Dr Cork is the anaesthetist at Kaitaia Hospital, covering paediatric and general anaesthesia, as well as pain management, and the work is becoming more complex.
"Kaitaia Hospital could do so much more to help the community," he said, "but we've recently started doing total joint replacements and prostatectomies, meaning less travel for people in our community who need to access this care."
His role included providing anaesthesia for surgical procedures and relief for both acute and chronic pain. He also helped emergency doctors with airways on occasion, and helped teach medical students and post-graduate trainee doctors. There was also a lot of paediatric surgery, much of it dental.
"Last year I anaesthetised about 300 children for various procedures," he said.
It had been something of a long and winding road to medicine, and to Kaitaia, however. His first degree was in electrical engineering, followed by a PhD and worked as an engineer in Phoenix, Arizona. He then enrolled at medical school, training in anaesthetics at the University of Arizona, where he stayed on as a consultant.
"I was in school until I was 35 years old," he said. "My dad kept asking me, 'When are you going to quit school and get a job?' I showed him. My way of rebelling I guess.
"I eventually took a professorship at Louisiana State University, in New Orleans and Shreveport. I was chairman of the department at LSU-Shreveport and started a pain fellowship [extra training beyond anaesthesia]. I've got experience in cardiac surgery, neurosurgery and pain procedures.
"I spent a year in Zimbabwe, learning how to take care of patients without the high-tech medical technology I was used to in the States.
"My biggest achievement? Getting the Kaitaia Pain Service established. The people in and around Kaitaia had been without good pain coverage for a long time. We've heard stories of people being able to return to work after long periods off after accessing our new pain service, and I'm proud of the part we can play in improving people's quality of life.
And while Kaitaia Hospital might not quite be in the fast lane, it had a great deal going for it.
"Kaitaia Hospital has the best community spirit I've seen at any hospital," Dr Cork said. "Most of the hospitals I've worked in are big university hospitals, where people naturally tend to work in silos and don't co-operate with other departments. Here at Kaitaia, everyone pitches in, because it's their community hospital, and they have a sense of ownership. This might be something about rural medicine in general — you develop more of a sense of community than you do in the bigger cities."
He had joined the Northland DHB in 2010, initially as a locum.
"I love working with the people here at the hospital. I also love living at the beach at Ahipara — it's good for the soul. I've been learning te reo Māori for the past two years. We meet every Sunday morning at Roma Marae at Ahipara," he said.
And while Dr Cork appreciates his colleagues, he is appreciated for what he contributes.
"As part of our Northland DHB oral health service development plan we started providing paediatric dental care under general anaesthetic at Kaitaia Hospital's day surgery Unit in 2007, but it wasn't until 2011, when Dr Cork arrived, that we were able to establish lists on a weekly basis," principal dental officer Dr Neil Croucher said.
"Prior to 2007 we were asking patients and families to take the long, arduous journey down to, and back from Whangārei Hospital. Many children never made it down to Whangārei, due to families not having access to a car, or not even being able to afford the petrol, so they never received the dental care they needed. Dr Cork's paediatric induction techniques are second to none, with children peacefully being sedated and anaesthetised in a safe, caring and child-friendly environment. The combination of anaesthetic and analgesic medications given during the procedure results in children recovering well and pain-free after surgery.
"Dr Cork is an excellent teacher, and many doctors and nurses have learnt much from his oversight and supervision.
"I also commend the amazing, close-knit clinical team that works at the Kaitaia Hospital Day Surgery Unit, always ensuring safe, high-quality care, with a strong focus on providing a positive patient and whānau experience."
His fellow medical staff at Kaitaia were equally complimentary, saying Dr Cork had made himself part of the community and would always find a way to help patients."
"We have also shared sad times with Randall, and he is always there to support us; we have come together to awhi him in his time of need," they said.
"Who would have thought that a professor of anaesthesiology from New Orleans would end up helping the children of Muriwhenua have access to better dental care, and initiate a pain service that enables people to get on with their lives?
"Randall is a truly wonderful person, a brilliant physician and teacher. Kaitaia Hospital and the community it serves would be lost without him."