Last month Dr Gary Avery, of Avery Plastic Surgery introduced us to his exceptional team and explained why his team is a big part of why their patients have a positive journey with the surgery. While we loved reading about the team, it occurred to us that we had a few questions of our own to ask – like who is Dr Avery! This month we caught up with Dr Avery for a chat – and to get answers to the questions we’re all wondering about.
Thanks for taking the time to talk to us. Following on from the theme of your article last month about your team, why do you think it’s important that patients learn more about the faces behind the practice?
I think it’s important that patients research their Surgeon fully. Qualifications, surgical skill, and experience are all important for the outcome of surgery, but I think the kind of person your Surgeon is can also play a role in your overall experience.
Did you always want to go into the medical profession? Were your parent's doctors?
I grew up with no thoughts or expectations of becoming a Doctor. My Mum and Dad worked for the Sydney Bus and Tram Network. My Mum was a bus conductress, and my Dad drove the buses when they met. My Dad went on to represent the Bus and Tram Union until he retired at 60. Even in his ‘retirement’, Dad continued to represent the community by being a volunteer driver of the elderly.
All of my schooling was completed at a Public School in Western Sydney. I did well academically and spent most of my spare time playing rugby league and then basketball. While contemplating life after school, I had a conversation with the school careers advisor. He told me not to bother trying to get into medicine (based on the school I attended, rather than my grades) so I applied for Pharmacy and enjoyed completing that degree before deciding to give medicine a go.
Where did you complete your medical training?
I completed my medical degree at Sydney University while working as a Pharmacist. During this time I had various placements, including at the burns unit at Concord Hospital, where I discovered the humanity within plastic surgery and the strength that people are capable of displaying in times of extreme adversity. My time at Concord was that noteworthy fork in the road that led me to specialise in plastic surgery ultimately.
In my final year of medical school I travelled to Nepal to work in the teaching hospital in Kathmandu. My love of the mountains was born and my time there made me appreciate the opportunities that are available to us living in Australia. During this trip, I also met my future wife, a pivotal experience on a personal level but also significant for my career. My wife is a Kiwi, and after my internship year at Gosford Hospital, I moved to New Zealand (NZ) to be with her.
For the next 12 years, I lived and trained in NZ, completing the advanced training programme for plastic surgery. This involved multiple exams and years of supervised operating around various public hospitals. I was exposed to the cross-section of plastic surgery, including procedures that were both reconstructive and/or aesthetic. I also continued working with severe burns at Middlemore Hospital in Auckland, and with craniofacial surgery in Lower Hutt.
Our friends across the Tasman have a different health system than we do here in Australia - many procedures that would be considered private here are undertaken within the public system in NZ, which increased my exposure to what Australian-trained plastic surgeons later undertake in private practice. I am forever grateful to NZ for my personal and professional growth (and for my wife!)
Once advanced surgical training is completed, and the grueling final Fellowship of the Australasian College of Surgeons exam passed (FRACS), surgeons have the option of going straight into their role as a Consultant Plastic Surgeon or completing further sub-specialty training. I chose a combination of fellowships that involved surgery for melanoma, hands, and child craniofacial and cleft-palate issues. Along with the reconstructive and aesthetic skills acquired throughout my training, these fellowships reinforced the acquisition of body and facial plastic surgery expertise. Seventeen years after I started my surgical career I emerged a fully qualified and experienced Plastic Surgeon.
How did you end up in Newcastle?
When I first decided to settle in Newcastle, I approached the John Hunter Hospital (JHH) about working as a Plastic Surgeon within the public system. At the time there was no plastic surgery unit there and unfortunately no plans to create one. For the next five years, I worked within the public system as a plastic and hand surgery consultant and performing general plastic surgical procedures on an ad hoc basis, and also skin cancer procedures out of Belmont hospital. I am excited to say that this year a plastic surgery unit was created at the JHH, involving myself and two other Plastic Surgeons who have settled in Newcastle in the past two years. It is challenging finding enough time to run a busy private practice and also be available to work within the public system, but it is a juggle I hope to continue. It took a long time to acquire the skills and expertise I have, and many great surgeons gave up their time to mentor me on that journey.
What attributes do you believe make a great plastic surgeon?
I think part of being a Doctor or Surgeon is having a willingness to give back to the community that contributed to your training. My upbringing, my life experience, my time in the public system in Australia while I was studying and in NZ as a trainee, collectively left me wanting to be a great Surgeon but also use my skills to improve the health and lives of all people. Don’t get me wrong; the desire to support my family financially is part of who I am. My private practice is a business with staff and bills to pay. But I like to think I find the balance between the business and my moral and ethical responsibility as a health professional. I couldn’t continue to look my Dad in the eye if I didn’t.