Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland Coláiste Ríoga na Máinleá in Éirinn

On Call with… Jill O’Donnell FRCSI, Class of 2001

29 June 2018

"Obesity results in more technically challenging complications for surgeons."


Q&A with Class of 2001's Dr Jill O'Donnell, Clinical Director of Vascular and Endovascular Surgery at Sunshine Coast Hospital, Queensland, Australia.



I am working as both a clinical director and as a surgeon, building the vascular unit in the new Sunshine Coast University Hospital.


At first, it was for professional reasons. I first came to work for a year, to gain extra endovascular and vascular duplex skills. I really enjoyed the experience at Westmead Hospital, Sydney - working in a major tertiary hospital, living in a bustling cosmopolitan city. There were so many opportunities both professionally and personally that I wanted to stay. For this reason I started the path for Vascular Board accreditation with the Australasian College of Surgeons. Now that I am board certified I am setting up the new vascular unit in our new hospital in Queensland, which is an exciting challenge.


I love it here. Workwise, it's very pro-clinician. Management really do listen in our hospital and we have great new facilities. Being a new hospital, it is not without its challenges and we are working through those. Australia is a melting pot of ethnic diversity, so I see lots of different pathologies. Lifestyle-wise in the Sunshine Coast is hugely attractive - you can live close to the beach, surf every day, and there is access to great facilities in our new hospital.

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Dr Jill O'Donnell outside her workplace, Sunshine Coast University Hospital


In Queensland, the sun rises early, as do my dogs! As soon as my eyes open around 5am, the dogs want to go for a long run on the beach beside my house. I sometimes do a bit of yoga too. Then I head to my favourite French bakery for an espresso and croissant, before heading into work. At 7.30am I do ward rounds with the juniors for about an hour, then vascular out-patients from 8.30am-12.30pm before having a quick sandwich while I catch up on lab reports and emails. The afternoon is for my theatre list and I'll usually be in surgery until at least 5pm before seeing patients before I go home.


I have always been good at balancing work with social life. I do think that a lot of bravado surrounds the idea of working ridiculous hours - it's just not safe practice, that's been proven time and time again. I lead a small cohesive group, with a collegial attitude - we cover for each other; when we are off, our colleagues cover our patients. This allows us all to have downtime.

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Fixing a thoracic transection in CT hybrid theatre


Obesity results in more technically challenges for surgeons and anaesthetists. When dealing with elective surgery, I am very direct and explain it is up to the patient to take ownership of their situation, to endeavour to reduce and control their weight prior to surgery. In an emergency situation, I don't have that luxury and the risk to the patient is exponential. Obesity rates are a massive burden on the healthcare system, eating into healthcare resources. As doctors we must repeatedly promote a healthy lifestyle and diet, reducing sugar and processed foods. Health authorities need to be a lot more aggressive about targeting this from an early age in addition to an active lifestyle. I think this would be much more cost effective long term than bariatric surgery. I have treated patients post this type of fix, who remain the same size by liquidising all their food yet consuming the same amount of calories. I don't believe it's a long-term answer.

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Katherine Lanigan MRCSI (Medicine, Class of 2004) and Jill O'Donnell at Diner en Blanc Sydney


The biggest influence on my career was being taught at RCSI by Professor David Bouchier-Hayes. He was an amazing surgeon and academic, one of the smartest people I have ever met. He made vascular surgery so exciting and stimulating. I feel he fostered my interest, and supported me throughout my career. Others who made a big impression were Professors Austin Leahy, Cathal Kelly and Pierce Grace. I will be forever grateful.

Thank you Dr O'Donnell!


'On Call' is our new alumni interview series in which alumni supply the answers to our searching questions. If you have any comments, feedback, or would like to be put in contact with Dr O'Donnell please email