Skip to main content

Kiwi cardiologists gain valuable skills overseas thanks to heart research funding

The Heart Foundation’s ongoing investment in overseas training for New Zealand cardiologists has saved tens of thousands of lives.

Dr Chris Nunn cardiologist angioplasty programmeDr Chris Nunn, Director of Cardiology at Waikato Hospital

Over the past fifty years, the Heart Foundation has awarded more than 100 overseas fellowships to talented cardiologists. As a result, valuable learning from teams at internationally respected hospitals has dramatically improved how we treat heart disease in New Zealand. 

In 1967, inaugural recipient Dr Robin Norris helped set up the first coronary care unit in New Zealand at Green Lane Hospital. He then travelled to London’s Hammersmith Hospital, where he gained critical experience treating heart attacks. Upon his return to New Zealand, he continued to pioneer coronary care.

Angioplasty procedure brought to New Zealand

Dr Chris Nunn also benefited from a Heart Foundation Overseas Training Fellowship over 30 years ago. Dr Nunn trained at the University of Florida and worked on early primary angioplasty trials for heart attack victims. The process involved using a balloon catheter to unblock arteries.

Through this experience, Dr Nunn established a ground-breaking interventional angioplasty programme in New Zealand. Thanks to his valuable experience and the skills he learnt, the procedure has saved countless lives since.

“Before then, if you had a heart attack, you received drugs to dissolve blood clots, and then you crossed your fingers,” says Dr Nunn.

“Today, the sort of interventions that can be applied to save lives are much more sophisticated and the chances of survival are far greater. I’m grateful to the Heart Foundation for their continued investment in research and training to help reduce the impact of heart disease in New Zealand.”

Overseas heart valve procedure a game changer for New Zealand public health system

Leading cardiologists in public and private sectors have gained valuable experience from time spent training internationally. One example is Waikato-based Dr Sanjeevan Pasupati, who received a training fellowship in Vancouver in 2015. While there, he learnt how to replace heart valves by a procedure through the groin instead of major open-heart surgery. 

“This has been a game-changing procedure in our public health system,” Dr Gerry Devlin, Heart Foundation Medical Director, says.

Southern-based Dr Sudish Lal was awarded a fellowship in 2018 to train in Canada. He conducted echocardiography and clinical research at the Division of Cardiology of St Paul’s Hospital, Vancouver.

In the same year, Dr Ben Wilkins, now a colleague of Dr Lal in the Southern region, gained new skills and a greater understanding of valve procedure research during his one-year Interventional Structural Fellowship at the University of Copenhagen Hospital in Denmark.

Overseas training vital for heart research

In 2021, Dr Libby Curtis, a registrar at Auckland City Hospital, was awarded a year-long training and research fellowship at Rennes University Hospital in France. There she gained valuable experience in a leading European hospital specialising in cardiac imaging.

At the end of her fellowship, Libby will return to New Zealand to take up a consultant cardiologist position at Hawke’s Bay Hospital. The region has a family connection for her, as her grandfather was also a cardiologist in Hawke’s Bay many years ago.
Dr Devlin says sending our cardiologists overseas to learn from the best in the world is a vital part of our heart research funding.

“New Zealand has an excellent international reputation, and some of the most prestigious training programmes welcome our doctors.

“I’m pleased that through the support of our donors, we can support people to take up opportunities at renowned clinical training and research centres around the world. I know that the expertise they bring home with them greatly benefits New Zealanders.”

Discover Heart Foundation research grants

Funding heart research

About the grants

Our research history