Articles and Case Studies

The Power of Passion for the Profession

30 Nov 2017

dinesh palipana

Let’s meet Dr Dinesh Palipana, the first quadriplegic medical intern in Queensland. He didn’t let a car accident or quadriplegia get in the way of his passion for medicine. His story is an inspiration to us all.

Let's meet Dr Dinesh Palipana, the first quadriplegic medical intern in Queensland.
Dinesh didn’t let a car accident or quadriplegia get in the way of his passion for medicine. His story is an inspiration to us all.

As a kid, what did you want to be when you “grew up”?

Being a doctor wasn’t even on my radar as a kid. I wanted to be a pilot and started flying planes when I was a teenager. After high school, I studied law. Then halfway through the course at the age of 22, I became ill with celiac disease, depression and anxiety – all of which made me think about life and what was important to me. I worked out that I wanted to make a difference and help people. Medicine is a good way to do this. It’s intellectually challenging and definitely the career for me. From “day one”, I haven’t looked back. It’s amazing.

What was the major turning point in your life?

I was 25 years old and in the third year of my medical degree. I lost control of my car on a wet night – the car aquaplaned and rolled. I was awake the whole time and realised I couldn’t feel my legs. That was in January 2010. I spent eight months in hospital and much longer in rehabilitation. I’m now a quadriplegic with no movement in my hands, though my arms and my wrists work to a degree. For five years there was a lot of doubt as to whether I could resume medical studies.

I went back to medical school in 2015, graduated in 2016, and started internship this year. Interestingly, the car accident wasn’t really a turning point; it was something that strengthened my conviction.

Does your quadriplegia limit you at work?

I’ve figured out ways of doing things. I can still position a stethoscope into my hands; then my fingers naturally curl around it and I can hold on without grabbing it. I can also slip a pen inside my fingers and scribble notes. It takes a bit longer and it’s tedious, but it can be done. I’ve never had a patient react oddly to me. Sometimes they’re surprised and ask questions, but no one has ever refused to be treated by me. The people around me have been amazing. I’ve been very fortunate in this way.

What’s a typical day in your life as an intern?

The life of an intern varies significantly depending on the rotation you do. This year, I've done rotations in vascular surgery, general medicine, emergency medicine; and short terms in O&G and psychiatry – all significantly different in workflow and lifestyle. I’m currently on holidays, so a typical day for this intern right now involves activities that deeply promote chilling out and a bit of fun!

I’m planning to spend more time in the emergency department (ED) over the next year, so I'll tell you a bit about what life is like there.

A typical day means waking up three hours before I have to be anywhere. It takes a long time to get ready when you have a spinal cord injury. My mum lives with me, and I have guys who help out on alternating days as I need help with a quite a few things.

Then I roll into the ED where the person with the most urgent problem waiting the longest becomes my first patient for the day. Patients can be anyone with any kind of problem – a mum with her one-year-old who has trouble breathing, or someone’s grandma with abdominal pain.

ED doctors (as with all doctors) have to be efficient as presentations can be urgent, and there are always lots of people waiting. I ask patients about their history, examine them, discuss with a senior doctor, and get moving with any management and investigations. The order and speed of this depends on how ill the person is. Then it’s on to the next patient.

Our ED has a fantastic working environment, with a brilliant and approachable team. It also has very accessible space for me to get around in. Even the desks are at the right height. All of this allows me to be functional to the best possible extent.

Emergency is fast moving. You can help a lot of people and you need to think on your feet (or other load-bearing body parts, as is my case). Having said this, all the rotations this year had unique positives and challenges. There are always cases that tug at my heartstrings – these people stand out in my mind and reinforce my reasons for doing this job.

How hard was it to get an internship?

This was tricky. It took a long time and was a period of great uncertainty for me. All the other medical students got job offers through the normal recruitment campaign in June. It was January and I was floating around until the Friday before the Monday when everyone else was due to start work. I was having a beer with a friend when my phone rang at 2.30pm with a job offer – talk about unexpected! Until that point, I didn’t think it was going to happen. I had to send back the paperwork by 4.00pm and I started work the following Monday.

Are there any “heroes” who have inspired you?

My mum. She has been dedicated and selfless, and helped me so much. I don’t have to look far to see a hero.

Any words of advice for new medical students?

I once read this in a Warren Buffett book – ask any successful craftsman, artist, athlete, poet, or entrepreneur, and they will say they lose themselves in their craft. The phenomenon of losing a sense of time and place is the definition of finding your passion, your purpose in life. Find your passion. Let it consume you.

If the profession starts to feel like a chore, you need to find your footing again. This is important because medicine isn’t just a job. It requires your heart and soul. If something feels tedious, remember there are so many different things you can do within (and outside) medicine.

Anaesthesia, Dermatology, Emergency Medicine, General Practice, Intensive Care Medicine, Obstetrics and Gynaecology, Ophthalmology, Pathology, Practice Manager Or Owner, Psychiatry, Radiology, Sports Medicine, Surgery


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