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Dr. Dinesh Palipana inspires TAFE Queensland students

The resilient doctor, lawyer, and disability advocate shared his journey and insights on overcoming adversity, and the importance of a person-centred approach in healthcare.

TAFE Queensland North region Certificate III in Individual Support (CHC33021) students and educators were lucky enough to hear from Dr. Dinesh Palipana OAM last week, a renowned doctor, lawyer, and disability advocate.

His remarkable journey and insights left a lasting impact on educators and students alike.

The session was facilitated by Sarah Murphy, Certificate III in Individual Support (Ageing and Disability) (CHC33021) teacher at TAFE Queensland's Townsville (Pimlico) campus and provided students with a unique opportunity to gain perspective from Dr. Palipana's experiences.

A trailblazer in the medical field, Dr. Palipana was the first quadriplegic medical intern in Queensland and the second person with quadriplegia to graduate as a doctor in Australia.

After a car accident at the age of 25 left him with a spinal cord injury, Dr. Palipana spent eight months in hospital.

“When I woke up in the intensive care unit, paralysed, there was this day where I remember I didn't want to be there anymore,” Dr. Palipana recounted.

“I wanted to run away, but I realised that I couldn't even run away. I was trapped. I was a prisoner in my own body.”

“But, 14 years on, and do you know what I've realised? Today, I feel like the happiest man on earth."

Throughout his journey back to medicine he faced many obstacles, but his determination never wavered.

“Throughout that time, I never lost my dream of wanting to be a doctor, and I felt that even more after that time as a patient.”

“A lot of people said, 'How are you going to be a doctor in a wheelchair? You won't be able to do your job properly.' “

“When I finally graduated, I had to fight for my job even though I had great grades. Again, people fought for me, and I finally got the job.”

Born in Sri Lanka during a civil war, Dr. Palipana grew up witnessing significant hardship. "Sri Lanka taught me something really important, and that is perspective," he reflected on his early years.

"On the hardest day that I have now, I think back, and I remember that across the world today, there are billions of people going through this kind of hardship. I am grateful every day."

After leaving school, Dr. Palipana initially pursued a law degree. After struggling with depression throughout his studies, it was the compassionate care of a doctor that inspired him to pursue a career in medicine.

"My doctor inspired me so much, so I decided that was my purpose. I finished law, and got into medicine, and I knew from day one of medical school that I finally found my place on this planet," he said.

Throughout his talk, Dr. Palipana emphasised the importance of a person-centred approach in healthcare.

"Our job in healthcare is not to treat an illness, but to treat a person," he asserted. “If we’re not looking after them like they’re our own mothers, sisters, brothers or children, then we’re failing.”

“I would love to see us all extending more kindness and putting the person first, particularly when supporting someone with a disability. We should try to empower them to live their best life and reach their full potential.”

Dr. Palipana’s closing messages were powerful calls to action. "Find your purpose, no matter what it is. That's enough for a life well-lived.”

“We have to fight for each other. We have to empower each other. We have to empower the people that we support.”

“Lastly, hug the people that you love every single day. The very last thing I did standing was hug my mum. I’m pretty happy with that."

Kay Kaur, Certificate III in Individual Support (Disability) (CHC33021) teacher at TAFE Queensland Cairns campus, expressed the collective gratitude of the attendees: "We are absolutely grateful to you for giving your time to us today. Your honesty and wealth of knowledge have resonated deeply with everyone here."

Dr. Palipana's insights resonated deeply with the TAFE Queensland community. Sarah Murphy praised his message. "Dinesh's journey is not just inspiring, but it's a powerful reminder of the profound impact that passion and perseverance can have on both individual lives and the broader community."