He's just graduated with a Doctorate in Medicine aged 90, and there's no stopping Dr Ron Trubuhovich.

The nonagenarian is already planning his next project, after he received his doctorate at the University of Auckland's Faculty of Medical and Health Sciences graduation on Friday.

His thesis had to stick to a 100,000 word limit, meaning some early chapters on critical care medicine before 1870 had to be chopped. So his next move is to get them published elsewhere.

His findings were of academic interest to a small number, he said.


But the impact of research into critical care medicine could be far-reaching.

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Trubuhovich was a pioneer in critical care medicine in New Zealand, working in Auckland Hospital's Department of Critical Care Medicine for 30 years from 1968, including as chairman.

He retired at 69, because he had to, but that didn't mean turning to a life of sleep-ins and daytime TV.

"I sleep seven hours a night, that's enough for everybody."

First, he was lead author, with Dr James Judson, of a 2001 history of intensive care in New Zealand for the hospital department's 40th anniversary.

Then he began publishing an average of two papers a year on the wider history of intensive care, methodically seeking evidence for - and correcting - various medical lore from ancient Greece to the 20th century.

His papers included one on Alexander the Great's famed early tracheotomy - the conqueror supposedly used the tip of his sword to pierce a choking soldier's throat, but Trubuhovich found no evidence the event occurred. He also wrote a paper on the origins of the 18th century Europe-wide practice of attempted resuscitation by rectal fumigation with tobacco smoke.


Having published a number of papers, he realised he may as well draw on them for a Doctor of Medicine thesis on resuscitation and the origins of intensive care/critical care medicine.

No stopping 'till we drop'

Trubuhovich, who was made an Officer of the New Zealand Order of Merit more than 20 years ago, said he kept publishing work because it "keeps me happy".

"Till we drop ... what else do you do? Sit around and watch TV?"

During his career he'd seen huge change in medicine.

"At one time it was great rejoicing when we had one monitor with a patient's cardiac tracing on it – now they've got all sorts of things monitored, but we started from scratch.


"We had a large number of trauma patients, mainly from motorcycle crashes, and they seem to have gone down markedly over the years. We also saw a lot of children, until the Starship ICU (intensive care unit) was functioning at the end of 1991."

People in critical care weren't expected to survive, but mortality was reduced from 25 per cent to about 12 per cent, he said.

It was also a moment of "great satisfaction" in 1998 when the Medical Council of New Zealand accepted Intensive/Critical Care Medicine as an independent medical specialty - something he'd been asking for since the mid-1970s.