After a car accident in 2010, doctor Dinesh Palipana was left a quadriplegic.
- A car accident left Dinesh Palipana paralysed below his chest
- It did not stop him from becoming a doctor
- He is now helping to make the profession more inclusive
But he did not let being paralysed below his chest get in the way of fulfilling his dream of becoming an ER doctor and being instrumental in making the profession more inclusive for other aspiring doctors with disabilities.
Dr Palipana, who works in the emergency department at Gold Coast University Hospital, said he was never prepared to leave medicine behind.
He even recalled having a conversation about it while being transported from his accident site to hospital.
"I was talking to the doctor in the ambulance about coming back to medical school. The idea never left my mind," he said.
Once Dr Palipana returned to work, he said one of the biggest challenges he faced was the attitudes of other medical professionals.
"There were some who thought that it would be impossible for me to work, with some of the bureaucratic structures proving to be the most challenging," he said.
"I must say that the medical board has been the enabling influence throughout my training. They have taken a safe but inclusive approach which has enabled my career to continue."
Working in the emergency department, Dr Palipana said the patients he has treated have been amazing.
"I've interacted with thousands of patients now. Not one of them has reacted untowardly. On the contrary, they have always been positive and supportive," he said.
Thinking 'outside the box' key to success
Dr Palipana believed the barriers he had faced as a doctor with a disability were all mental.
"Think about how many barriers we conjure up when navigating something like this, even before attempting it. We need to think outside of the box, not just for these kinds of challenges but for all challenges," he said.
Doctor Shahina Braganza, a senior emergency physician at Gold Coast Health and Dr Palipana's manager, said patients seeking care from medical professionals expected that the doctor would be fully capable of delivering that care.
"Any negative perception is based largely on the fear of the unknown, and it is possible that when a patient observes a doctor with physical disability, they may initially be concerned that the doctor may not be too able to carry out all expected functions. And this uncertainty may make them feel anxious," she said.
"Within moments of meeting Dinesh, patients have utmost trust and confidence that he will be able to meet their care needs, and that he will be resourceful in using his environment and his team to augment his own vast knowledge and skill."
Dr Braganza said she suspected that ableism may be stronger in the medical profession than in other areas.
"This may be because, broadly speaking, medicine is a profession that is steeped in tradition and hierarchy, with some elements of rigidity," she said.
"We have arguably been slower to embrace this within our own ranks of healthcare providers. Thankfully we have been challenged by those with disability, and from other minority or marginalised groups, and we are steadily evolving and maturing in our mindset."
Dr Braganza said working with Dr Palipana inside the ER department has taught her that patients were far more open-minded than we might expect.
"Dr Palipana has brought far more to us than we have done for him," she said.
Medical school goes 'above and beyond'
Michael Thomas, a fourth-year medical student studying at Curtin Medical School in WA, was involved in an accident in January 2016, two weeks before starting year 12 at school.
He said while many of his injuries healed in a few months, there was lasting nerve damage that resulted in the complete paralysis of his dominant right arm and hand.
Mr Thomas was unsure how Curtin University's medical school, which had only recently opened, would accommodate him and his disability.
"However, both staff at the medical school and at Curtin Disability and Accessibility Services have been extremely supportive," he said.
"The coordinators at the medical school have gone above and beyond, always asking if there were aspects of the course that I needed help with, and would start off by asking what I think the solution was."
He said his experience of interacting with patients had been positive overall.
"Usually, patients are curious to know what's happened to me, and after I give them a brief explanation, there seems to be an instant rapport built," he said.
"They tend to be very supportive and encouraging, and often are even willing to help me with certain things, such as tightening a blood pressure cuff, or holding onto the butterfly as I change out tubes while taking their blood."
Mr Thomas said he wanted to enter the field of neurology, the specialty of the brain and nervous system, as he felt a personal connection to it.
Dr Palipana's message for other hospitals was a quote taken from Sir Herbert William Massie CBE, a British disability rights campaigner.
"By welcoming more disabled medical students, and by retaining more disabled doctors in employment, the profession will improve its outward-facing service and better reflect modern society," Sir Massie said