Neurological Foundation - Chair of Neurosurgery

UK surgeon excited about joining Dunedin team

January 2012

Otago University’s new Senior Lecturer in Neurosurgery Reuben Johnson is excited by the opportunity of joining a team of talented researchers and helping to build up a centre of excellence in clinical neurosurgery, alongside a vibrant research centre.

“I visited Dunedin twice in 2010 and was always impressed, overwhelmed even, by the enthusiasm in the hospital and in the university,” Johnson says.
“The value of a 50-50 split between academic and clinical duties is two fold. Firstly, having an academic presence in Dunedin is probably essential to guarantee the future of the neurosurgery unit. However, in order to develop an academic presence you need the time away from the clinical duties to do this properly.”

Working alongside the newly established Neurological Foundation Chair in Neurosurgery, the senior lecturer will help provide a strong academic presence for neurosurgery in Dunedin as part of the South Island Neurosurgical Service. Johnson, who is currently undertaking a fellowship in minimally invasive spinal surgery and scoliosis surgery in Italy, will complete a further fellowship in endoscopic pituitary surgery before coming to Dunedin in August 2012. His neurosurgical interests include neuro-oncology, functional neurosurgery, and minimally invasive spinal surgery.

After initially studying medicine in Glasgow, Scotland, Johnson went to London to begin his surgical training, working with world-renowned British surgeon Professor Harold Ellis. Johnson then moved to Oxford to complete a doctorate in neurogenetics where he was involved in a project examining how genes control the development of the brain and how this can be altered in disease. At Oxford, he also met his Kiwi wife, Willow, a Rhodes Scholar.

“I was fascinated by the brain and I loved studying anatomy,” Johnson says.
“I have always been attracted to the history of surgery. As an undergraduate I became interested in neuropharmacology and when I first worked as a junior doctor I really enjoyed working in the surgical team, or the ‘firm’ as it was called. I took a job in neurosurgery at Atkinson Morley’s Hospital in Wimbledon in London to learn more about it.  I was hooked almost straight away.
“Neurosurgery tackles some of the most difficult and frightening pathologies.  But at Atkinson Morley’s I discovered a very humane group of surgeons who inspired me – the registrars and the consultants.”

Throughout his career, Johnson has received a number of fellowships and scholarships and has worked as a neurosurgery registrar at John Radcliffe Hospital in Oxford, a lecturer in neuroanatomy at Oxford and as a neurosurgery fellow at Royal Melbourne Hospital.

“In neurosurgery it is often the very simple operations that can save a life, or prevent someone from becoming paralysed.,” Johnson says.
“For that to happen it needs everyone in the team to work together and get it right first time.”