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Portrait of Dinesh Palipana.

Advocate for doctors with disabilities
2021 Australian of the Year | Queensland

Dr Dinesh Palipana OAM is a senior resident at Gold Coast University Hospital and a researcher in spinal cord injury. Following a car accident in 2010, Dinesh became a quadriplegic. He has since completed his medical studies and a law degree. His own injury and his struggle to get a medical internship inspired him to become an advocate for medical students with disabilities.

As a co-founder of Doctors with Disabilities Australia, Dinesh has worked with the Australian Medical Association to create national policies for inclusivity in medical education and employment. In his research at Griffith University, Dinesh has contributed to advances in the treatment of spinal cord injury and restoring function to people with paralysis.

He is also a doctor for the Gold Coast Titans Physical Disability Rugby League team and has received numerous awards, including Junior Doctor of the Year and the Order of Australia for service to medicine.

Signed medical scrubs

Dinesh Palipana is a senior doctor in one of the busiest emergency departments in Australia. He was a young student when a car accident left him with quadriplegia. His dreams of becoming a doctor could have ended there but, surrounded by a supportive community and with a tenacious attitude, he went on to graduate.

Dinesh’s experiences have transformed the ways he practises and researches medicine, and he is helping to establish a more adaptive and inclusive environment for practitioners and patients alike.

These medical scrubs have been signed by the people closest to Dinesh. To him, they are much more than a uniform.

A blue scrub with pockets featuring multiple signatures across the front.

Medical scrubs from Dinesh Palipana

My identity

The scrubs signify the journey from a spinal cord injury to finding life. I wear them with pride while serving people every day. They have seen blood, sweat and tears — both mine and others’. They have seen the best of humanity.

They have been signed by those who have shaped me: from the firemen who cut me out of a destroyed vehicle, to lifelong friends who I grew up with, to the people who fought for equity alongside me, to my greatest hero — my mother.

Rethinking disability

I believe that the solutions to our most complex problems will come from having a diversity of perspectives. I believe that people with a disability have a role to play that is far beyond that of a patient in our healthcare system.

Changing attitudes

Disability is a social construct. I’ve never felt disabled. In fact, I feel like I achieved more after my accident than before. It’s not physical capacity that threatens to stop people — it’s people’s attitudes towards difference. That is something we can choose to change today.

This exhibition was developed by the National Museum of Australia in collaboration with the National Australia Day Council. Portrait images supplied by the National Australia Day Council.

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