Dr Murray Brennan at the University of Otago yesterday.
Photo by Linda Robertson.
Otago Medical School graduate Dr Murray Brennan (73) is
''reinventing'' himself after performing his last operation as
a New York-based cancer surgeon.
Dr Brennan, who has spent his entire career in the United
States, will today give a graduation address in Dunedin. He
has another link to the South, because son Sean is a Gibbston
winemaker, a fact Dr Brennan finds remarkable, given his son
grew up in the US.
Dr Brennan bluntly admits that a ''big ego'' came with being
a high-profile surgeon.
He performed his last operation only a few months ago, joking
yesterday he was determined to stop two years before someone
told him to. He now has to reinvent himself - there is no
plan to retire, or at least, he ''will not let retirement
interfere with work''.
He is vice-president and international programmes director at
the Bobst International Centre in New York.
He is also forthright about the US health system: ''It's
broken, completely broken''. It was a situation in which
everyone - patients, doctors, hospitals, insurers - were
Patients had unrealistic expectations, yet the main failure
was of the US as a wealthy country not providing a universal
The very poor were looked after by the existing system, he
said, and it remained to be seen how successfully President
Barack Obama's reforms plugged more of the gaps.
He is grateful for the free education he received as a
student in the 1960s, but said New Zealand students should
still be pleased higher education is cheaper here than in the
US. Originally from Auckland, the former student union
president and Otago rugby representative said his Dunedin
education set him up for his high-flying career.
He did not want to sound boastful, insisting he was ''not the
smartest guy in the class''. Hard work propelled him to the
top of his profession, a feat most people could achieve if
they put the hours in. In the early days of his surgical
career, he worked 100 hours a week, and then 80 hours a week
for about 30 years.
''I did it because I played the game. I wanted to do it.''
He said his son's achievements - winning a top international
wine award in London this year - had outstripped his own. Dr
Brennan founded an Otago alumni association in the US about
10 years ago, and it has since raised about $2 million for
He was chairman of the department of surgery at Memorial
Sloan-Kettering Cancer Centre, from 1985 until mid-2006.
He has also served as director of the American Board of
Surgery, chairman of the American College of Surgeons
Commission on Cancer, president of the Society of Surgical
Oncology, vice-president of the American College of Surgeons,
and president of the American Surgical Association. He has
received the American College of Surgeons' highest award, the
Distinguished Service Award.