'Ireland gives up on its sons and daughters very easily'
Michael Brennan: "I always felt I had an advantage in America. I was accepted immediately and my patients love Ireland"
Wild Geese: Michael Brennan, Mayo Clinic, Minnesota:US-based consultant says Ireland does not reach out to its Wild Geese
Michael Brennan is one of many elite doctors to have trained in Ireland before going abroad when he found his chances for advancement limited by the Irish system.
He now lives in Rochester, Minnesota, where he is among the most respected physicians in one of America’s most celebrated hospitals, the Mayo Clinic.
Having qualified from the Royal College of Surgeons in 1969, Brennan worked for some time at Irish hospitals but, keen to move his career along, he soon looked abroad.
“I left for postgraduate training,” he says.
“There wasn’t anything there at the time and unfortunately that’s the same still. That’s why so many people are leaving Ireland, leaving to Australia, New Zealand, America and Canada and all over the world.”
One of his mentors during his early career had studied at Rochester and suggested he might like to continue his studies there.
It was not a decision he took lightly. “I would have stayed in Ireland if I could have done the postgraduate training there,” he says.
“I loved living in Dublin and, to some extent, I still feel that I have never really left. I’ve maintained close contact with the country.
“I had intended to spend three to five years in the US and then return to Ireland, but that didn’t happen and then I was offered a position on the staff here at the Mayo Clinic and that was that.”
Long way from home
Minnesota is a long way from Dublin in more ways than simple distance.
Much of the state is a vast wilderness and winters are punishing, with temperatures falling to minus 20 degrees. “You learn, I suppose, to kind of attack the winters rather than being defeated and getting cabin fever,” he says.
Despite the harsh conditions, he soon discovered a cultural bonus that many Irish in America enjoy.
“Being Irish, I always felt I had an advantage in America. I was accepted immediately and my patients love Ireland.
“When I tell them where I’m from, they light up and say they had a relative from Ireland or they visited there and they loved it.
“I think we are very fortunate. We have a favoured position in this country.”
His career in Minnesota has seen him named the outstanding resident at the department of medicine at the Mayo Institute in 1975.
In 2001, he claimed the distinguished clinician award and in 2010, he was elected president of staff by his peers, becoming the first Irish person to hold the position.