The Australian Society of Medical Research (ASMR) has awarded the 2021 ASMR Medal to Professor Kelvin Kong at UNSW Rural Clinical School. Each year, the ASMR awards the medal to an eminent stakeholder in the international medical research community for achievements in raising awareness.
A Worimi man from the Port Stephens region north of Newcastle, Prof. Kong is Australia’s first Indigenous surgeon and a UNSW alumnus. He is now an ear, nose and throat (ENT) surgeon based in the Hunter region of NSW.
Prof. Kong says he is “really proud for his Worimi community and research family”.
“This is not my award, but recognition of the need to address inequities we see exist, particularly in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. I am so proud to be a UNSW alumnus; it provided me with the learning base to continue to strive," he says.
Prof. Kong regularly travels to remote Australia to provide specialist ENT services to Indigenous patients. He complements his clinical practice with ongoing research into the causes and treatment of ear disease and with community outreach programs designed to improve access to health care and to break cycles of disadvantage for Indigenous Australians.
“If we can reduce the risk of hearing loss, we can have a direct impact on a child’s ability to learn and develop. The change that we see is remarkable – we can take them from limited hearing and language skills to fully functioning teenagers with real employment prospects,” he says.
The Professor’s research focuses on the diagnosis and treatment of otitis media, ‘glue ear’, in children under three. Otitis media is experienced at higher levels in Indigenous than non-Indigenous communities and it affects as many as 70 per cent of children in remote communities. It can lead to hearing impairment and/or loss, and failure to treat it can have negative impacts on children’s education, childhood development and social outcomes. Prof. Kong is also working on studies of pathogenicity and antibiotic resistance among Indigenous and non-Indigenous trial groups with the hope of informing new treatments.
While studying at UNSW Medicine, Prof. Kong campaigned for greater recruitment of Indigenous students. He was instrumental in the establishment and ongoing support of the University’s Indigenous Pre-Medicine Program (PMP), which is run through UNSW Medicine & Health in collaboration with Nura Gili Centre for Indigenous Programs. UNSW’s PMP is one of the oldest alternative pathway programs for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders into a medicine program and has around eight to 10 students coming through each year. When Dr Kong started practising, he was one of only 20 Indigenous doctors nationwide. UNSW Medicine & Health currently has 82 Indigenous undergraduate and postgraduate students enrolled in its programs.
Professor Kong is also 2021 Newcastle Citizen of the Year and was awarded the 2020 Menzies School of Health Research Menzies Medallion for his leadership in Aboriginal health service delivery, advocacy and research. In 2019, he received a UNSW Alumni Award. The awards celebrate the incredible achievements of outstanding alumni who are using their education to help transform communities and improve the lives of others.
ASMR medallists tour Australia, addressing audiences across the country. Prof. Kong will be presented with his medal at a National Press Club Event on Tuesday 8 June.