Dr Fergus McCabe - Journey to fulfil childhood dream

Dr Fergus McCabe, the joint winner of the 2014 WAGPET Registrar of the Year Award, can recall exactly when he decided to become a doctor. It was Christmas, he was eight years old and his mother had nearly died of a brain haemorrhage due to an intra-cerebral arteriovenousmalformation(AVM).

“While her recollection of that Christmas is an amusing anecdote that takes place on the roof of the hospital where she defeated Vladamir Trotsky in a game of chess, my recollection was that the doctors brought my Mum back and from that point I wanted to do what they did,” Fergus said.

Fulfilling aspirations to become a doctor was not an easy task for an Italian Irish lad growing up in a working class housing estate in Dublin during the 1970s. Luckily for Fergus, his atheist parents crossed what was at the time a cultural chasm and sent him and his two brothers to a middle-class Anglican primary school instead of the local school where student brutalisation was not uncommon.

“It was at that school I remember deciding that study was going to be my only way out if I ever wanted to live like my classmates did,” Fergus said. The other fringe benefit of his parent’s school selection was the fortuitous meeting of his life partner and best friend, Barbara, at the age of 12 years old.

After completing high school at Mount Temple Comprehensive – where incidentally he saw the school’s most famous graduates U2 play their first gig next to the school tuck shop – Fergus became the first male in Ireland ever to study Speech Pathology. He also became a taxi driver each summer in Cape Cod Massachusetts to pay his way through university.

Once qualified, Fergus jumped at the opportunity to work as a Speech Pathologist on the other side of the world in Western Australian where he joined Royal Perth Hospital to specialise in voice disorders, post laryngectomy care and swallowing disorders.
 Fergus’ childhood dream of studying medicine became a reality in 1997 when he secured a place in the post-graduate PBL course in Flinders University South Australia.

“To her eternal credit, my partner Barbara gave up her job, our home, her cherished first new car and most importantly her financial security and moved with me to Adelaide to put me through medical school,” Fergus said.

In the subsequent years Barbara, and their expanding family, joined Fergus as he moved back to Western Australia where among other things he worked as an Infectious Diseases Registrar, then onto Dublin where he worked with the HIV/ HCV intravenous drug using population in Dublin and help set up an inner city residential HIV respite unit for homeless patients with addiction.

“After nine years of this work and the birth of our second son Ruaidri, I hankered after the flexibility, diversity and scope of General Practice and we decided to return to Australia,” Fergus said.   

Fergus, who joined WAGPET in 2013, recently completed 18 months working with Stirk Medical Kalamunda and is currently completing his Subsequent Term at the only S100 HIV prescribing practice in Western Australia - GP on Beaufort.

“Although these are two very different practices they share what every teaching practice, clinic and hospital I have worked in in Australia has displayed, a friendly, supportive staff from the practice managers to the reception staff and from the nursing staff to the doctors,” Fergus said.“I have yet to encounter anyone who is not focused on the service they provide to the patient and who is not willing to help, teach and encourage me.” 

Fergus’ talent as an exceptional doctor was recently recognised by WAGPETwhen he was awarded the Registrar of the Year Award for 2014, along with Dr Rohan Carter from the Geraldton Regional Aboriginal Medical Service.

“I found it very humbling and surprisingly emotional listening to the comments from the nominators as if I had come to the end of a journey that started when I was eight years old across the other side of the world,” Fergus said. 
Fergus said he was very grateful for all the opportunities Australia had provided him and his family.

 “I want to say thank-you to a society that has always said yes to me and my family,” he said. “That cultural attitude is made all the more valuable coming from a place where the default position is no."