Life-changing conversations: Dr Charles Teo AM

Dr Charles Teo  described several life-changing conversations that he’s had throughout his life and throughout his career. One was a seemingly trivial conversation with his mother in relation to washing the car: she asked him when he would be washing it, after he’d just done it. He learned a lesson about doing a job properly from that conversation.

After forging an established career in paediatric surgery, Dr Teo ended up in neurosurgery almost by accident; when someone from that area of a hospital was unwell, he stepped into the position for 6 months and has remained in neurosurgery ever since.

After training both here and in the US, Dr Teo had another life-changing conversation with the leader of a medical association, who asked him to stop treating tumours that were previously deemed inoperable. His colleagues felt that the work he was doing was making them look bad, despite the lives he was saving.

That conversation set the scene for many elaborate attempts to destroy his career: he has been falsely accused of urinating during a 14-hour operation, false advertising and stealing patients, amongst other things.

Dr Teo then explained how technology is dramatically improving morbidity rates, recovery times and patient pain through the use of endoscopes and keyhole surgery. Surgery that used to take hours now only takes 27 minutes.

Dr Teo’s career has been shaped and guided by the concepts of thinking outside the square, upskilling, taking time out of his day to day working life to learn new things and challenging dogma.

According to him there is no such thing as false hope. Another life-changing conversation Dr Teo had with a patient showed him the importance of not projecting your own ideas about quality of life or hope onto others. Some valuable advice he received was to never give up on patients if they haven’t given up on you.

Dr Teo met with the Dalai Lama recently, and asked whether he would have been able to help more people had he followed more of a mainstream practice, and the response was ‘Sometimes when you look for new horizons you need to lose sight of land’.


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