After a horrific car accident, Doctor Dinesh Palipana saw the emergency department on the patient side

After a car accident in 2010, Doctor Dinesh Palipana became a quadriplegic.

But he didn’t let being paralyzed below his chest stop him from achieving his dream of becoming an emergency physician and helping to make 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 ready to give up medicine.

He even recalled having a conversation about it as he was being transported from his accident site to the hospital.

Dr. Palipana ended up with quadriplegia after a car accident more than ten years ago.(Provided: Dinesh Palipana)

“I was talking to the doctor in the ambulance about going back to medical school. The thought never left my mind,” he said.

Once Dr. Palipana returned to work, he said one of the biggest challenges he faced was the attitude of other medical professionals.

“Some thought it would be impossible for me to work, with some of the bureaucratic structures proving the most difficult,” he said.

“I have to say that medical counseling has been the enabling influence throughout my training. They have taken a safe yet inclusive approach that has allowed my career to continue.”

A side view of the badly mangled wreckage of a gray car on the road.
Dr. Palipana’s spinal injury occurred after he lost control of his car on a wet road.(Provided)

Working in the emergency department, Dr Palipana said the patients he treated were amazing.

“I have interacted with thousands of patients now. None of them reacted in an undesirable way. On the contrary, they have always been positive and supportive,” he said.

Thinking “outside the box” is the key to success

Dr. Palipana believed that the obstacles he faced as a disabled doctor were all mental.

“Think of how many hurdles we conjure up when we navigate something like this, before we even try it. We have to think outside the box, not just for these kinds of challenges, but for all challenges,” a- he declared.

Dr Shahina Braganza, senior emergency physician at Gold Coast Health and director of Dr Palipana, said patients seeking care from medical professionals expect the doctor to be fully capable of providing that care.

Shahina wears dark clothes and gold hoop earrings as she stands in front of vegetation
Shahina Braganza says the medical profession is taking a more mature approach to disability.(Provided)

“A large part of any negative perception is based on fear of the unknown, and it is possible that when a patient observes a physician with a physical disability, they may initially fear that the physician is not too capable of ‘perform all the expected functions. And that uncertainty can make them anxious,’ she said.

“In the moments after meeting Dinesh, patients have the utmost 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 increase his own knowledge and skills.”

Dr. Braganza said she suspected ableism might be stronger in the medical profession than in other fields.

“Perhaps it’s because, generally speaking, medicine is a profession steeped in tradition and hierarchy, with certain elements of rigidity,” she said.

“We have arguably been slower to embrace this within our own ranks as healthcare providers. Fortunately, we have been challenged by people with disabilities and other minority or marginalized groups, and we are steadily evolving and maturing in our mindset.”

Dr. Braganza said working with Dr. Palipana in the emergency department taught him that patients are much more open-minded than you might expect.

“Dr. Palipana has given us so much more than we have done for him,” she said.

Medical school goes ‘beyond expectations’

Michael Thomas, a fourth-year medical student at Curtin Medical School in WA, was involved in an accident in January 2016, two weeks before starting year 12 at the school.

He said that although many of his injuries healed within months, there was lasting nerve damage which resulted in complete paralysis of his dominant right arm and hand.

Michael wears a blue collared shirt and sweater with a stethoscope around his neck
Michael Thomas says the patients have really supported and helped his work.(Provided)

Mr. Thomas was unsure how Curtin University’s medical school, which had only recently opened, would welcome him and his disability.

“However, staff at Curtin Medical School and Accessibility and Disability Services have been extremely supportive,” he said.

“The medical school coordinators went above and beyond, always asking me if there were any aspects of the course I needed help with, and would start by asking what I thought the solution was. .”

He said his experience interacting with patients has been generally positive.

Michael Thomas standing outside Curtin Medical School wearing a sling
Mr Thomas says he felt really supported throughout his studies at Curtin Medical School.(Provided)

“Usually patients are curious about what happened to me, and after I give them a brief explanation, there seems to be an instant connection established,” he said.

“They tend to be very supportive and encouraging, and are often even willing to help me with things like squeezing a blood pressure cuff or holding the butterfly while I’m changing tubes while drawing their blood.”

Mr Thomas said he wanted to enter the field of neurology, the specialty of the brain and nervous system, because he felt a personal connection to it.

Dr Palipana’s message for other hospitals was a quote from Sir Herbert William Massie CBE, a British disability rights campaigner.

“By welcoming more disabled medical students and retaining more disabled doctors in employment, the profession will improve its outward-looking service and better reflect modern society,” said Sir Massie.

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