Skip to main content

Charlie Teo

'I would love to be considered mainstream'

Video: Charlie Teo 'I would love to be considered mainstream' (5 minutes)

Renowned Australian neurosurgeon, Professor Charlie Teo AM, discusses the pressures associated with his career.

This video was produced with funds donated by Tim Fairfax AC.

Well firstly, brain surgery's never easy. It's always difficult. Even the most simple operation you can do and you can destroy someone's life. The first time I was exposed to neurosurgery was doing paediatric neurosurgery. As a registrar you are basically the man on the ground at the call phase so you see all the emergencies. You see the kids that come in with bad head injuries that you've gotta try and salvage in the emergency room. And in many circumstances as well you are operating on your own so yeah I was thrust in the deep end.
 
I don't even see it as something that's that bad because when I go home I have this incredibly fulfilling family life and I have fulfilling pastimes and I have fulfilling friends and support system. To me it's like it's not my shoulders that are broad. It's my family's shoulders that are broad and my friends that give me these broad shoulders to put up with all the pressure.
 
Yes, I have been called a maverick and I've been called a cowboy and some derogatory terms and some quite complimentary terms but the bottom line is that I would never I never aspired to be a maverick. The medical profession's a very conservative profession. And the more I've been it the more I realise how conservative it is. To its detriment I think. Thankfully there are people out there who have challenged the status quo who have shown courage and have pushed the envelope and advanced our science.
 
So you just heard then speaking about that person in the third person because I never really thought of myself as that person. And I would not like still not to think of myself as that person. I know in some ways it's complimentary but in other ways it's a hard, hard road. You know neurosurgery is hard enough as it is. You're dealing with someone's brain their life their soul their personality. And one small mistake can mean loss of vision loss of memory loss of life loss of limb. So you've got the pressure of that. Then you've got the pressure of my practise which is brain tumours that no one else believed they can do and then on top of that you've got the acrimony of your colleagues. They make it very clear so I'm not exaggerating that they have made it very clear that they dislike me they dislike what I do and they have their knives poised at my back waiting for me to fail. So you have all those three tiers of pressure on you every case you do and I don't want that pressure so I would love to be considered mainstream. I would love to be considered by my colleagues as just another neurosurgeon.
 
You know everyone hears about the success stories. And because they're feel-good type stories and the media like them. I mean I like them when someone does really well and it's a great story but for every success story unfortunately there's some terrible story and I think really in reality you learn more from the bad outcomes than you do the good outcomes. They are a constant reminder of how you've gotta try and better yourself and try and improve the whole discipline give back push the envelope you know try and do things better.
 
And I set up the Cure Brain Cancer Foundation so I can give back to my patients and provide them with the hope that other people do care and that those poor old scientists that are really struggling get supported financially through the foundation. In terms of the contribution to humanity our scientists and our doctors and paramedics and nurses they deserve a whole lot more credit than they get I think. Including myself. It's hard to make a statement like that when you're a doctor but whenever I see sportsmen getting those accolades and awards I think those poor scientists down in my lab they get there early in the morning they leave late at night they work on weekends they get paid pittance and they're doing it for mankind and they don't get any sort of credit at all. It's really sad and unfortunately a lot of us take, take, take and we never really think about that. But creating a foundation and raising funds for our scientists is one way of doing that as a doctor.