Coast Characters

Meet Sarah Olson, Neurosurgeon and a Coaster

You can be the judge but I am overwhelmed at the achievements of this Coaster.

Dr Sarah Olson, 36, grew up in Hokitika, studied medicine at Otago Medical School and is currently serving as a senior neurosurgeon at Princess Alexandra Hospital in Brisbane.

In 2014 Dr Olson was nominated for a Pride of Australia Medal.

Neurosurgeon and Coaster, Sarah Olson

The Pride of Australia Medal nomination recognises outstanding Australians in their fields.

The Brisbane Courier Mail reported that in nominating Dr Olson, Brisbane health provider Metro Health South commended the 42-year-old’s work in brain tumor research and helping to find a cure by establishing a brain tumor bank.

“I realised that every time a brain tumor goes in the bin, it should be going to people who should be making a difference,” Dr Olson told the paper.” We managed to get all neurosurgeons on board in Queensland, we found a place and we secured ongoing funding.”

Sarah said she reached a point in her career when she realised that no matter how good she was at her job, she wouldn’t be able to save all of her patients. She knew research was needed, to stop people from developing brain tumors and ending up on her operating table.

“The only people who can cure brain tumors are the researchers,” she said. “Even if I am the world’s most brilliant neurosurgeon I can’t cure it – so I need to help the research team.

“Breast and prostate cancer have had incredible improvements in survival because of research, but brain tumors have received the least in funding for research — despite being the biggest killer in people under 40.’’


The mother-of-three said while her job was extremely rewarding, it could also be emotionally challenging, with the five-year survival rates for glioblastoma brain tumors only 10 per cent.

“Some things are really emotionally hard going, I have been on the floor with my head in my hands wondering if this patient is going to be alright,’’ she said. “Brain tumors are particularly horrible; I hate what they do to people and their families.”

Dr Sarah Olson also played a key role in saving the lives of East Timorese President Jose Ramos Horta and a guard from his home. The two men were shot in a failed coup attempt and Dr Olson was flown by Queensland Government jet to Darwin within hours of the attempted assassination to provide expert assistance to the two men, in particular the guard.

Dr Olson is a daughter of well-known Hokitika couple Rayleine and Jon Olson. Mr Olson was the former Westland District Council general manager and previously headed the Westland County Council for many years.

Catch Dr Olson’s interview with Bruce Smith here: