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Nurture the new generation, says World Class Kiwi Murray Brennan

Investment in the next generation of great thinkers is a leader’s biggest reward, says World Class New Zealander Murray Brennan.

1. When did you realise you could be world class and what steps did you take to get there?

I started out in Otago, going to uni there, playing rugby, student union president, heavy social calendar, a degree in math during med school, all somewhat as a dilettante. The education I received Otago was great, but in retrospect I think it may have been too easy. A scholarship to the US (most doctors went to the UK) made me realise I really needed to focus and work. Off to Boston and Harvard for over five years of 100+ hours a week will quickly teach you what it means to compete.

2. What’s your advice for Kiwis who want to make their name offshore or in the same industry as yours?

Do not be afraid of work – once you reach a certain level the harder you work the luckier you get.

3. What’s been the toughest time in your career?

As a surgeon, every major case can be a life and death event. A death in the OR is hard to handle –the more high profile the patient the greater the critique if you do not ‘solve the problem’. In cancer many occasions you are buying time, not a cure. Talking about death and dying can never be easy, if it does not hurt you then you have lost your empathy and lost the privilege of looking after a patient with cancer.

4. What would you would do differently if you had your time again?

Very little. I’d love to have taken more family time, more personal time, but then I think it may have been hard to have done the job I wanted to do.

5. What are your tips for the best way to use your networks?

In medicine, you are judged much more on your personal contributions, and those of your department or institution, so networks here are critical. I believe strongly in investment in young people, the next generations of great thinkers and doers – that is the greatest reward.

Murray Brennan won the award for services to research and scholarship in this year’s World Class New Zealand Awards, a New Zealand Trade and Enterprise initiative delivered by Kea New Zealand. A fellow of the American College of Surgeons and vice president for international programs at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, he and his colleagues have created the world’s largest database of sarcoma patients and a program to predict the chances of surviving soft tissue sarcoma for at least 12 years after diagnosis.

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