Courage and Faith

Last Sunday (19 May) I was asked to chair a ‘Question and Answer’ session at the Auckland Readers and Writers Festival with a remarkable woman called Masha Gessen.

Masha is a Russian/American journalist and author, and has published a much celebrated biography of Russian President, Vladimir Putin, and the creeping dictatorship that has taken over Russia in the last few years. 

This is a woman who has been a war correspondent in Chechnya and the Balkans and has seen friends and colleagues, who have been critics of Putin, either jailed or assassinated. And yet despite the fact that she now lives in Moscow with a young family, Masha has continued to be an outspoken critic of Putin, despite all the challenges that brings.  It was a huge privilege to meet and spend time with such an amazing and courageous women, who everyday faces the kind of challenges and threats that we can’t imagine in NZ, and yet she still has the energy and power to speak out.

If Masha’s life wasn’t challenging enough, she discovered at age 37 that she had the BRCA1 gene mutation, which gave her an 87% risk of breast cancer and a 40%-50% chance of ovarian cancer.  Faced with a life changing decision, Masha made the brave choice to have a double mastectomy. If you have the time, check out her book called Blood Matters: A Journey Along the Genetic Frontier which accounts for her own journey with BRCA1.   

While I find stories like Masha’s inspiring and motivating, it can also be humbling to know that whatever challenges we may face in our lives, it’s unlikely to be anything like the challenges Masha has encountered throughout her life and continues to face today.  What I have learnt however is that true courage comes not from the situation we are in, but from how we respond to the challenges that come our way, whether it be in our personal lives or at work.

We have all had those days where we are under the hammer, the hospital is full and we are trying to do the best we can under enormous pressure.  While it can be a tough environment to work in, we must continue to focus and keep the ‘granny test’ at the forefront of our minds and provide a standard of care to our community that we can all feel proud of and that we would want for our own families.

To underpin this, I’d like to share a piece of news from the latest Health Round Table figures.  For the last 6 months, CM Health has had the lowest standardised mortality rate for hospitals of our size and acuity in Australasia.  The fact that we can achieve this result, while working in a busy and challenging work environment, is an utter nugget of excellence and worth celebrating.

So whereas I can’t hope to challenge dictators, and I won’t experience the kind of genetic challenge that Masha experienced, just meeting and talking to her for a couple of hours instilled in me her extraordinary act of courage and faith in the future.  It also made me think that in our small part of the world we are also showing great courage and faith for a better future and should take pride in the victories, big and small, that we achieve along the way.



Author: Geraint Martin

Geraint Martin was appointed Chief Executive Officer of Counties Manukau DHB in December 2006. It is one of the largest District Health Boards in New Zealand and services a population of half a million. He has significant experience over 30 years in national policy & in managing both primary and secondary care . Previously, he was Director of Health and Social Care Strategy at the Welsh Government .He authored a radical 10 year strategy of reform, including the successful “Saving 1000 lives” Campaign.Until 2004, he was CEO at Kettering General Hospital & had held senior positions in London & Birmingham.He has worked closely with clinicians in improving clinical standards,patient safety,chronic disease management & managing acute care to reduce hospital demand.In NZ, He has promoted clinical quality and leadership as central to improving patientcare. This has led to a significant increases in productivity and access, whilst maintaining financial balance. CMH has completed in 2014 a $500 m capital redevelopment programme, the largest in New Zealand. A central part of this is the establishment of Ko Awatea,the Centre for Innovation and Research which will underpin CMH as one of the the leading health systems in Australasia.In 2008, he chaired the Ministerial Review of Emergency Care in New Zealand, and in 2013 was an member of the Expert Advisory Panel on Health Sector Performance. Geraint has an MSc in Health Policy from Birmingham University .His post-graduate work has focused on health economics and Corporate Strategy . He is adjunct Professor of Healthcare Management at AUT and Victoria University, Wellington Elected in 2006 as a Companion of the Institute of Healthcare Management, previously he was an Associate Fellow at Birmingham University.He is is Chair of the Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra, a member of the Institute of Directors, on the Board of the NZ Institute of Health Management & previously the Board of The NZ Health Quality and Safety Commission.

3 thoughts on “Courage and Faith”

  1. Bravo G!
    We are indeed asked to rise to the occaision daily and stories like this are inspirational…
    Thanks for sharing!

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