It was 2005 when surgeon Mark Guirguis first established head and neck cancer services in Ballarat.
It was the first time head and neck cancer patients could be treated in the city, where patients had previously been forced to travel to one of the major hospitals in Melbourne for head and neck cancer surgery.
Mr Guirguis’ move to Ballarat in 2005 contributed to growth and improvements in medical care, especially cancer care, in Ballarat.
He said the introduction of head and neck cancer surgery coincided with the opening of the new radiooncology centre and integrated cancer service.
“We did the first laryngectomy, which is taking out someone’s voice box, at St John’s in 2005… prior to that you would have had to go to Melbourne for that surgery,” Mr Guirguis said.
“Not having to travel to Melbourne has a massive knock on effect in terms of recovery and the family being able to support the patient.
“I am still amazed that patients (from other areas) are willing to drive three hours to Ballarat but that extra hour to Melbourne will strike the fear of God into them; having to handle the traffic and the parking… I think the patients feel a lot more comfortable coming to Ballarat and having the treatment here, rather than having to go into Melbourne.”
Mr Guirguis first began studying medicine in 1988 at Monash University medical school. He completed surgical training in 2004 and spent a year living in London with his wife and two young children to complete a fellowship with world-leading head and neck cancer surgeons.
After living in Melbourne his entire life, Mr Guirguis wasn’t convinced the city would continue as their home when they returned to Australia.
“There was nowhere in Melbourne that really suited us. We wanted to have a big property that was close to work with opportunities for our children,” he said.
“We have a beautiful 10 acre property five minutes away from the hospital here, just over an hour to Melbourne and to the airport. It is an incredible set of circumstances that makes life great here.
“My colleagues in Melbourne keep saying ‘when are you moving back?’ I keep saying ‘when are you moving to Ballarat?’.
“I think the secret is getting out that you can have this amazing lifestyle an hour from Melbourne with a very good train service.”
Mr Guirguis works two days a month at two hospitals in Melbourne and once a fortnight in Maryborough, as well as working in Ballarat.
He said Ballarat had always had a great reputation in health care.
“I think Ballarat has always punched a little bit above it’s weight medically,” Mr Guirguis said.
“I was watching a video recently of orthopedic surgery done at St John’s in the 1960s when there was an international conference of orthopedic surgeons that came to Ballarat for a new hip operation.
“Ballarat has always had this reputation of having a very high quality healthcare service and I think this just enhances the reputation of the city. Having the schools, the hospitals, the lifestyle, I think that is why Ballarat is moving ahead.”
Mr Guirguis said improvements to healthcare in Ballarat would only continue to grow.
“We are looking at establishing a new intensive care unit and the hospital services generally have grown over the past 10 years,” he said.
“Patients are demanding that level of care with specialists in regional centres. But it is still a challenge attracting specialists to Ballarat.
“People now have an expectation that they won’t have to travel to Melbourne for their care.”
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