Chasing dreams with Dinesh

Dinesh Palipana was three years into his medical degree when a car accident left him with a spinal cord injury, paralysed from the waist down.

Against all odds he finished his studies and was the first quadriplegic to become a Doctor, Lawyer, disability advocate and most recently was named Queensland’s Australian of the Year for 2021. Inspired by his persistence, we spoke to Dinesh to find out more…

Have you always wanted to be a doctor?

I didn’t grow up wanting to be a Doctor. I actually studied Law but my heart wasn’t in it. I stopped to think about what was really important and realised I wanted to help people, so I studied Medicine. After my car accident, I wanted to finish my studies and become a Doctor more than anything.

What was it like when you made the decision to go back to studying?

It was scary because I wasn’t sure how I could do it... all I knew was I had to try. I’ve learned that a lot of the barriers in life are in your own head, or in other people’s heads. There were people who were supportive of me, and there were people who weren’t. I just had to dive in and do it.

When you graduated university, did you face any challenges getting into the workforce?

Yes! I should have gone straight into an internship like all the other graduates. Instead I was told that because of my disability, that didn’t apply to me. As far as I was concerned, I’d passed medical school and I was ready. In the end, it took my community coming together and advocating for me to make it happen.

Where are you up to with your career now?

I’m in my third post graduate year now, so I am a Senior House Officer at the Gold Coast Hospital. I work part time in the emergency department and part time conducting research on spinal cord injury. I’m really interested in the emerging technologies helping people, so I’d like to keep following this path. Over the last few years there’s been advances with electrical simulation, drug therapy and thought control. It gives me hope and I’m excited to see what happens next.

Do you have any words of wisdom to share?

My advice is to persist. Don’t stop, just go for it! I hope my story opens doors for people, and not just in the medical field. I want to make people think differently; think about how we can do it, rather than why we can’t. If I can inspire people to chase their dreams, it’s all worth it.

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Dinesh wearing dark blue hospital scrubs