Farewell to Northland Pioneer Doctor

He’s the man responsible for introducing the ‘Grommet Blitz’ to Northland and much more but today the well-respected Northland ear, nose and throat surgeon was farewelled for a joint retirement with anaesthetist wife Sue.

Dr Jeremy (Jerry) Gathercole, who pioneered ontological health and improving outcomes for indigenous people in Northland, has been the ORL consultant/head and neck surgeon at Whangarei Hospital since 1980 after moving to New Zealand where he trained in otolaryngology. His registrar training gave him a huge variety of patients to work with, as well as the opportunity to spot important connections between middle ear health and socioeconomic status early in his career.

After being appointed as consultant at Whangarei Hospital, he soon earned a reputation as a knowledgeable and caring doctor. Dr Gathercole was involved in establishing the middle ear caravan service in Northland and he pioneered the program of Grommet Blitz to accelerate the process of identifying the children with glue ear and providing an early surgical intervention service throughout Northland. He always took an active interest in indigenous ENT health and ran fortnightly clinics in the Far North where accessing health is an issue.

Says colleague of eight years Subhasch Shetty: “Jerry’s easily-recognised powerful voice helped to reinforce his advice to his patients. His clear vision, professionalism and interpersonal skills ensured co-operative working, saving hearing and helping to reduce the deafness rate throughout Northland.”

Other accolades include pioneering tympanic reconstruction techniques, as well as university teaching. He also co-authored a popular glue ear book for general practitioners and it’s used throughout the country as reference work.

Long-time colleague and friend Christopher Seeley noted that Dr Gathercole was one of two Whangarei surgeons to be the first doctors in New Zealand to receive a prestigious Australasian award for their service to the community. Dr Gathercole and Mr Peter Britten Milsom were recipients of the Outstanding Service to the Community Award at the inaugural Northland Health Sector Awards in August 2014.

He has prevented serious ear disease due to his communication skills – not only to the vision and hearing testers, but also the mobile ear clinic service and gps. This relationship continues. There is an annual survey by the general practitioners for each service here in the public and private systems and the ENT service have achieved the top award in all the years recorded except for one.”

Whangarei Hospital anaesthetist Philippa White says: “I have known Jerry since the early eighties when he was a registrar at Auckland Hospital. The Gathercoles moved up to Northland at about the same time as myself and we have met many times in theatre over the succeeding years. Jerry has always been a great colleague, very easy to work with and, in his unassuming way, often making it look far easier than it was. We, in the anaesthetic department, who have shared the airways of many patients with him, have come to value his skill and patience for which the people of Northland should be very grateful.

“It is lovely that he should be recognised for all his hard work and commitment over the years and no one deserves it more.”

Another long-serving Northland anaesthetist, John Swinney, who worked with Dr Gathercole for more than two decades, recalls him arriving in Whangarei 30 years ago and immediately being welcomed both for himself and his “desperately-needed anaesthetist wife”.

“He was, not only a competent ENT surgeon, but also one of nature's gentlemen who thought before he spoke. He was a pleasure to work with and it's fitting that he be recognised for his contribution to the hospital. Quite coincidently, in the medical museum, I was polishing a sterilizer recently, which had been donated by Jerry in 2001. Inside, previously unnoticed, was a loop for debriding the ear canal. Happy memories Jerry of days gone by.”

r Gathercole’s colleagues believe one of the keys to his success is his meticulous record-keeping and administrative skills. He was deeply-respected by both colleagues – a number of resident doctors have been inspired to take up ENT by his example, and his patients. His ready-availability, helpfulness and humility were often noted.

hen asked what he will miss the most, he replies: “The patients - the grateful, grateful patients; and the team, staff and colleagues.”

As well as his passion for the job, Dr Gathercole fell in love with the outdoors upon his arrival in New Zealand and has spent many hours fishing and hunting. However, he now plans a lifestyle switch as he and Sue head down to Wanaka to live.

“I’ve really enjoyed the lifestyle of Northland but we’ve decided to retire to Wanaka for a change. It’s a whole different world there and we’re looking forward to biking and skiing.

“We may come back or we may not.”

Dr Jerry Gathercole and wife Sue at their retirement farewell.

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