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Brisbane, Queensland, Australia
Department of Neurology Princess Alexandra Hospital
Senior lecturer, School of Medicine University of QueenslandVIEW PROFILE
Cullen O’Gorman, M.B.B.S., Ph.D. (NACF ’14, NEMG ’15), was born in Namibia to Irish parents and was raised in England. He was educated and trained in medicine in England and Australia, and completed a fellowship in clinical neurophysiology at Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota. Today he practices in Queensland, Australia, and says he’s grateful to the Department of Neurology at Mayo Clinic for the opportunity to have trained there.
“Meeting Mayo consultants and watching them interact with trainees made me realize how much the culture of a health system can be affected for the better by enthusiasm and a positive attitude.”
Training in England was mostly “learning by doing.” You were expected to accumulate knowledge and skills through clinical exposure and hard work. When I was there, it was expected to take at least 10 years to complete training, and much of that time was not spent in neurology. The structure of Australian training is similar. Working at Mayo Clinic was very different. The commitment to training and developing residents was a culture shock — in a good way.
In my experience, there can be a degree of negativity and systemic inertia to the health services in the U.K. and Australia. Any new idea or change may be met with resistance.
Meeting Mayo consultants and watching them interact with trainees made me realize how much the culture of a health system can be affected for the better by enthusiasm and a positive attitude. I hadn’t experienced such a supportive and collegiate atmosphere before, and I feel very lucky to have experienced it. I saw what can be achieved if clinicians put their egos aside and are willing to work together and collaborate. The whole institution has the same attitude — everyone at Mayo is interested in improving the quality of care for patients. I worked with very experienced clinicians who remained humble and committed to teaching and doing the right thing for patients despite more than 50 years of practice. My mentors at Mayo Clinic’s EMG lab were inspirational.
I was searching for a new challenge I was coming to the end of my advanced training in neurology but had limited experience in neurophysiology. There wasn’t a training position available to take my skills to the level I wanted in Australia, so I applied for an ANZAN (Australian and New Zealand Association of Neurologists) fellowship, which sends a trainee to Mayo Clinic each year.
In my first year at Mayo I tried to do as much neurophysiology as possible and was fortunate to be able to stay for a second year to train further in EMG.
I’d previously worked in the U.S. at a summer camp when I was 19 and had traveled around the continental U.S. by train, but I’d never been to the Midwest. Minnesota was a great place to live. People were incredibly friendly to me, my wife and our three young children. I’d go back in a heartbeat.
Every institution has a mission statement, but many don’t honor it “in the breach.” Mayo Clinic actually does. On a daily basis, I saw staff demonstrate the primary goal of the organization. The collegiality and attitude toward improving patient care made it a fantastic environment to work in as a clinician.
I learned skills at Mayo Clinic that I use every that that make a huge difference to the population I serve. Those skills help me and my colleagues get the right answers for our patients. I try to bring the attitude I learned at Mayo to work every day.
I’m grateful to the Department of Neurology at Mayo Clinic for the fantastic opportunity to work with them. It’s very much appreciated and valued and has been instrumental to my career.
I was working nights in an emergency department in London in the middle of winter. I found a photo of young doctors relaxing on a sunny beach after work, and I was hooked. I spent a wonderful 12 months in Australia, where I fell in love with an Australian woman and with the country.
I run a multidisciplinary neuromuscular clinic that I established to care for adolescent patients transitioning from the pediatric service, and for adult patients with neuromuscular disease. I also train our neurology residents in neurophysiology EMG. Princess Alexandra Hospital is a tertiary care center with a strong neurology department.
I also recently became director of neurology at Mater Hospital in Brisbane, so I divide my time between the two hospitals. I provide electro-diagnosis at Mater Hospital and enjoy the challenge of stepping into a management role.
I also work for the national regulator, similar to a state medical board, as a medical adviser reviewing physician performance. I am interested in optimizing systems that allow physicians to perform at their best.
How good is it there? Is it as good as people say? Are they doing the right things there? What am I not doing that I should be doing? My answers to these questions are: Amazing, yes, yes and let’s talk about it.
In the next five years I am to develop my career into roles in clinical management and leadership. I would like to have a voice in health policy, physician training and resource management. I want to work on departmental strategy and systems to maximize our efficiency and quality. It is important to me to continue my clinical work and research at the same time.
In particular, I want to continue to collaborate with my wife, who is a neuropsychiatrist currently working on her Ph.D. Being able to work closely with her has been a wonderful thing.
Your responsibilities grow proportionally after training, so you don’t have any more time, but you do have more control over your practice and greater efficiency. My understanding of the service — the bigger picture — has improved. I’m as busy as I was during training but hopefully more productive. I enjoy having longitudinal contact with patients. It’s a privilege to see the same people year after year.
I think being a physician can be emotionally challenging. Many physicians have a relatively inflexible nature, and we can be hard on ourselves. I have several colleagues who are struggling with burnout. I think it’s important to schedule specific time that Is “work-free” and stick to it. The nature of clinical medicine is that it can expand to fill any available time you have.
I recently completed my Ph.D. and am enjoying having my evenings back. My spare time is spent with my wife and three kids, ages 9, 7 and 4. I love being a dad. I am working on improving my knowledge of music theory, and I play guitar.
See past New Chapter stories here.