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Meeting with a leading British neurosurgeon Henry Marsh in Ternopil State Medical University

On 21 September Professor Henry Marsh and his colleagues, neurosurgeon Andriy Myzak (Lviv, Ukraine) and Roman Zoltowski (Poznan, Poland) visited Ternopil State Medical University at the invitation of the university administration and Student Council. Dr. Marsh, CBE,  is a co-founder and senior neurosurgeon of the International Neurosurgery Center, a member of the Royal College of Neurosurgeons and the author of critically acclaimed memoir Do No Harm: Stories of Life, Death and Brain Surgery, which was translated into Ukrainian by Dr. Myzak.

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During the meeting with the rector of Ternopil State Medical University, Professor Mykhaylo Korda,  Henry Marsh remarked on high enthusiasm of our students to learn and improve in their chosen profession. The students from TSMU travelled to Lviv to meet with Dr. Marsh 6 months ago, and used the occasion to invite him to visit Ternopil.




 Dr. Korda told the guests about the university and its activities. Answering Dr. Marshe’s question he stressed that one of the components being evaluated during final exams is the ability to communicate with the patient. According to Henry Marsh it is important to teach students these skills their studies, because doctor – patient relationship should be built on trust, and the physician should know how to find balance between telling the truth and giving the patient hope.


After the meeting with the administration representatives, Henry marsh gave a long-awaited lecture for Ternopil State Medical University students. The Assembly Hall of the administrative building could not accommodate everyone keen to hear it, so the students have set up both a video link to a next door lecture and on-line streaming.


Dr. Marsh is well known in Ukraine. Since the early 90’s he has been regularly coming to Ukraine to treat and consult patients and train the next generation of neurosurgeons. Ukrainian edition of his book, titled Stories about Life, Death and Neurosurgery, published by the Lviv’s Vydavnytstvo Staroho Leva, is a bestseller. In addition, his medical practice in Ukrainian hospital is featured in 2007 documentary film The English Surgeon.


Henry Marsh greeted the faculty and students of Ternopil State Medical University in Ukrainian language and said he was glad to be here in the ‘Fine City Ternopil’, bringing a storm of applause. Then he went on to give his lecture on What Does it Take to Be a Good Doctor.


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First, Dr. Marsh noted that “a neurosurgeon’s life is never boring and can lead to an extremely successful career, but for it you will have to pay a high price. You cannot avoid mistakes and have to learn how to live with their terrible consequences. ” He stressed that in order to become a good doctor, one should always work, for instance reading scientific papers, studying new approaches and analyzing many streams of information in order to be able to communicate with patients, have collegial relations with fellow doctors, be an expert, researcher, administrator, etc. It all leads to finding correct balance when making the decision, based on knowledge and personal experience, whether or not to operate in each particular case.



According to Dr. Marsh, an essential component of doctor’s responsibilities is having a trusting relationship with the patients and ability to communicate with them. Patients tend to believe that doctors have God-like powers helping them to recover. “We must understand that none of the doctors are gods. We are human beings, so we make mistakes. Our mistakes affect patients. Medicine is never certain. And we must make an important decision what to share with the patient, and what do not. From my own experience I would say that emotionally the deepest pain is when the operation or treatment went wrong. The doctor and patient must share mutual trust. Obviously, trust has to be based on honesty. And sooner or later, the question arises of honesty of the doctor with their patients, doctor and their colleagues. And, most importantly, doctor’s honesty with themselves “- said Henry Marsh.

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The neurosurgeon illustrated his thoughts with examples from his life and professional activity, drawing attention to the fact that errors provide very valuable experience. He advised the students that before making a difficult decision, they should find time to be alone with themselves and to be as honest as possible. This becomes increasingly important because professional growth brings progressively more complex cases.

Henry Marsh emphasized that in order to continue developing professionally, young doctors must find colleagues who would be willing to criticize them objectively. At the same time they themselves need to become such colleagues. This will help avoid many mistakes. Doctors must also listen to patients and their family members.

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Concluding the lecture, Henry Marsh spoke about political and societal aspects of health and reiterated that the main duty of doctor is to help patients.

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After the lecture, the students had an opportunity to receive an autograph from Henry Marsh.

Watch the lecture here