2023 | Volume 24 | Issue 3

Kerin Fielding

Associate Professor Kerin Fielding


Trailblazing Wagga Wagga orthopaedic surgeon and academic Associate Professor Kerin Fielding has been appointed RACS president.

Associate Professor Fielding was the first woman in New South Wales to become an orthopaedic surgeon and is only the third woman to undertake the role of president of RACS.

Born in Wollongong in New South Wales, Associate Professor Fielding spent most of her childhood growing up in Canada, where her parents taught in a small rural community in the Rocky Mountains, and then in southern Ontario.

Associate Professor Fielding’s interest in surgery extends back to her early childhood.

“My grandparents had a sheep and wheat farm in Goolagong, New South Wales, and I have many happy memories ‘dissecting’ the sheep with my grandfather for the family larder,” she said.

Having returned to Australia for her Higher School Certificate, Associate Professor Fielding gained entry to Sydney University and spent four years at Wesley College.

As an intern at St Vincent’s Hospital in Sydney, she undertook many surgical terms, including Neurosurgery, Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery, General Surgery, and Cardiothoracic Surgery during the time of Victor Chang—an Asian-born Australian cardiac surgeon and a pioneer of modern heart transplantation in Australia.

During a secondment to Wagga Wagga Base Hospital, she met her future husband Dr Joe McGirr, who was also an intern and resident on secondment from St Vincent’s Hospital.

Her plans to enter surgery faltered when she was unable to secure an interview for the Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery training program.

“I was feeling very unsure of my future when a very good friend, Dr John Ireland suggested that there were more training places on the orthopaedic training program.

“I remember saying to him that there had never been a female Trainee in New South Wales, so I didn’t think I had much of a chance.”

However, after some encouragement, Associate Professor Fielding applied and gained a position.

As the first female Trainee in the state, she met with varied responses from her colleagues—some were supportive while others were less welcoming.

“Luckily, my fellow Trainees and the Younger Fellows, a few years ahead of me, were supportive and many became lifelong friends.

“The orthopaedic training program was hard work with long hours, but extremely interesting from a medical and technical point of view and I really enjoyed the surgery, particularly trauma, paediatrics, hand surgery and joint replacement.”

She enjoyed—and continues to value—the ability to significantly improve patients’ quality of life by improving their mobility, their independence and their movement.

After her husband gained a position as the director of the emergency department at Wagga Wagga Base Hospital, Associate Professor Fielding completed the final year of the Surgical Education Training program and began practice in the orthopaedic group practice in Wagga Wagga.

The first years in rural private practice, with a young family, were demanding, but there were advantages of living and working rurally, including short commutes and proximity to her children’s school.

Associate Professor Fielding has also experienced the professional advantages of working rurally and embraced the opportunity to contribute to her community.

“As a rural surgeon I have been privileged to teach across the whole spectrum of medical education, teaching prevocational doctors, unaccredited registrars, and advanced Trainees.”

She has also been involved in rurally focused research that has helped to improve the lives of rural communities, with a particular interest in the treatment of osteoporosis and the access to treatment of rural patients.

For nearly 20 years, Associate Professor Fielding has held positions as chair of the Clinical Surgical Training Council at the Health Education and Training Institute of New South Wales. 

She has also been involved with the Early Management of Severe Trauma course at RACS for more than two decades, and is a long-time RACS councillor, chairing the Scholarship and Grants committee, the SIMG committee and the professional standards committee.

In her position as RACS president, Associate Professor Fielding is committed to ensuring the standards of care that patients receive are the best in the world.

“We must have a College that is financially sustainable, that is committed to maintaining equitable access to high-quality care, and that has a modern governance structure so that we can continue to deliver the innovation in surgical education that marks us as a genuine world leader,” she says.

“We must be prepared to make hard decisions. I believe we must be ready to adapt, change and grow and this includes achieving financial sustainability, modernising our governance structures and implementing our health equity strategy.

“Like any surgeon facing an unexpected situation in the middle of an operation, we must be ready to stop and reassess our situation and chart a new direction. And we must do this as a team with the goodwill and support of our specialty societies,” she said.