There were always doubts about the practical side of things, such as
the administrative and financial obstacles in his way.
And he certainly had his fair share of naysayers who said there was no way it could be achieved, but never once did Dinesh Palipana waver on his dream of becoming a doctor.
It was this determined vision, along with all the right credentials for a career in medicine, that led Dinesh to the point at which he is now – a fully-fledged doctor heading for his second year with the Gold Coast Hospital and Health Service. He will be a junior house officer with the service in 2018.
It is no matter now that he is, in fact, a quadriplegic man who was left paralysed from the chest down following a car crash in 2010. That is not the issue.
Now, the naysayers have been proven wrong and his supporters are heralding Dr Dinesh Palipana as a trailblazer promoting equity and diversity, not only at Griffith’s School of Medicine, but to the wider community of people with disabilities who may be considering a range of different careers.
“Unfortunately we still have a fair way to go in Australia before we see a totally level playing field for people with disabilities, but things are progressing."
“The key message is that people need to be judged on merit and what they are capable of achieving, not what they’re not capable of achieving. Think about people like Stephen Hawking, Franklin Roosevelt and Ray Charles.”
That’s the message he’s aiming to convey with Doctors with Disabilities Australia, the national organisation he has co-founded with Dr Harry Eeman, a rehabilitation physician in Melbourne and the only other known quadriplegic to become a doctor in Australia; Dr Hannah Jackson, a GP with osteogenesis imperfecta; and Miss Jerusha Mather, an aspiring medical student with cerebral palsy
“The group aims to provide doctors with disabilities with a helping hand, changing attitudes and providing support and advice along the way.
“Guidance on disability policy is also a big area of concern for many in this group so we aim to give support with that,” Dr Palipana says.
Dr Palipana knows only too well about the resistance to a change in attitudes following his own long wait to become employed with Queensland Health. “I think I was the last person from my graduating cohort to hear that I had an intern position, so it was a nailbiting position to be in after the previous six years of recovery, rehab and study. The good thing was that I had a lot of supporters both personally and from the wider community, some due in part to the media advocacy.
“I’m so grateful for that as I think there’s a of lot of the ‘fear of the unknown’ mentality, and it’s going to take a fair bit to change that to bring us into line with attitudes towards disability that other countries like the US hold.”
For now, Dr Palipana says his career – which also includes medical research and public speaking – is ‘just amazing’ and ‘the best thing that has ever happened’.
“I love absolutely every day of the clinical rotations I am doing; the variety is great, with so much that I find intellectually stimulating.
“Yes there are minor considerations such as reaching for a swab or getting through an odd doorway, but so what? I am talking to patients who are so desperately sick but are still smiling! It’s all relative and I never compare myself to anyone – everyone just feels what they feel but I hope my circumstances allow me empathy.”