Dr Rebecca Stack
& reconstructive surgeon
MB ChB (Distinction), MMedSci, FRANZCO
An experienced cataract surgeon with subspecialty interests in oculoplastic (eyelid), orbital and lacrimal (tear drainage) surgery, Dr Rebecca Stack often undertakes reconstructive surgery for patients suffering cancer and trauma, and for cosmetic eyelid procedures.
Dr Stack’s experience and acumen provide a perfect mix of big picture thinking and small detail focus to her work here. She has volunteered for VOSO (Volunteer Ophthalmic Services Overseas), travelling around the Pacific providing cataract surgery and eye care, and offers her time at the Christchurch Charity Hospital.
The South Island’s only purpose-built eye facility, Christchurch Eye Surgery, grew from her initiative, and she is also a mentor for women in leadership and a member of Global Women NZ. More recently, she also was elected to the Board of the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Ophthalmologists (RANZCO).
The point of view
The busy ophthalmologist must keep their eyes on a huge number of moving parts in their everyday work. For Dr Rebecca Stack the challenge is met with equal amounts expertise, ambition, and dedication. With vision extending beyond the horizon, a perspective shaped by community and family, and indefatigable focus on the very best in patient-centred care, she leads the way within SES and throughout New Zealand.
Youthful contrarianism saw Dr Rebecca Stack come close to a career in engineering. She’d been told “you should get into medicine” but there was one problem with such advice. “I didn’t always like doing what I was told,” she says.
After being accepted to second year Engineering at Canterbury University she delayed for a year and instead headed to Otago University for a year of fun in the south.
“Half-way through, I realised I wanted to stay there,” she says. “So, I just ticked all boxes for the Health Sciences hoping I could stay in Dunedin.”
There were some surprised faces when she showed up to her first day of Medical School in her second year. But it was clearly the right move, as “I’m much more suited to a medical career than I ever would have been as an engineer.”
After graduating from Otago Medical School with a Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of Surgery with distinction, she pursued specialty training in Ophthalmology in Christchurch and Dunedin. Further training included a Master of Medical Science focusing on thyroid eye disease and travel to London’s Moorfields Eye Hospital, where she completed a prestigious fellowship in Oculoplastic surgery.
Returning to New Zealand in 2008, Rebecca became a partner at Southern Eye Specialists. Since then, she has helped lead change both here and further afield, taking on big and small projects with a future-forward mentality.
“You have to embrace change – I think the ability to push through, to meet any challenge head on and use it to go further is a feature of a great doctor.”
Her days at work certainly provide plenty of challenges. Along with her work at SES, Rebecca works as a consultant at Christchurch Hospital, where she is a training registrar supervisor and has previously been the Clinical Director of Ophthalmology. She has undertaken volunteer work at VOSO (Volunteer Ophthalmic Services Overseas) and provided cataract surgery and eye care throughout the Pacific, as well as volunteering services for Christchurch Charity Hospital.
The list of career highlights doesn’t stop there. Working with other ophthalmologists, Rebecca was the driving force behind the city gaining a crucial resource the design and build of a state-of-the-art day-stay ophthalmic surgery.
“The earthquake led to a big opportunity to work collaboratively in forming the Christchurch Eye Surgery,” she says. “It was an incredible result that came out of the frustration of the lack of suitable space and equipment at the time.”
The innovative approach to the new facility was an unprecedented collaboration at the time, one that saw her win two Mumtrepeneur awards in 2015, including the Supreme Winner for Mumtrepeneur of the Year.
Successfully maintaining a family life within such an illustrious career is not always easy. Rebecca strives to carve out spaces in her busy schedule for vital family time. With “two amazing kids” and a busy homelife she finds time to escape with mountain biking up in the hills and training for an annual adventure race, “which is a great way to see the country and hang out with your friends”.
“I’m an active relaxer,” she says. “Ask my children – there’s no sitting around doing nothing at our house.”
Her husband is a farmer and, “while I’m not up feeding the cows every morning, it (farm life) is still there in the background,” she says (so much so that she arrived at her wedding on a John Deere tractor).
Rebecca sees collaboration as the best approach for family life, business, and medicine.
“Together, we can be better than what we are on our own,” she says. “If you could sum up the mindset it would be something like ‘do better, work together, go further’ – that’s the simplest way to put it.”
A close-knit team is what makes SES such a great place to work, and she strongly believes in the advantage that comes with learning from others.
“It’s very collegial here (at SES). You get to share ideas and there’s lots of chances to talk things through with the others. It’s the corridor conversations and the unwavering support from colleagues that are so incredibly helpful.”
“When I don’t have the specific skill needed for a patient I have colleagues to help,” she says. “It’s about having the moving parts all fitting together. And when you know that you’ve got someone around who’s got your back and, as importantly, has got your patient’s back, it makes a real difference.”
“I love that we’re almost always dealing with people whose lives we can change in a positive way,” she says. “Someone can be anxious and nervous when they come in and then incredibly happy.”
Not one to shy from a challenge, Rebecca also enjoys the brainpower her work requires.
“It’s technically difficult – and there’s that personal satisfaction from achieving something that’s quite difficult to do,” she says.
“Clinically, I’m most proud of making a difference. Sometimes it’s a card arriving in the mail that can really lift you up. When a patient lets you know just how much of a change you’ve managed to achieve, that’s so important to me.”