When Guy Dennis went to a talk at his high school by Australia’s first Indigenous surgeon, Dr Kelvin Kong, he knew he’d be inspired to do something positive with his life.
“I always had an interest in medicine but I wasn’t entirely sure if I could do it,” says Dennis.
“But talking to Kelvin, who had gone to the same high school as me, and other Indigenous medical students and hearing about their experiences really motivated me. I saw that this was possible.”
A year of studying nursing in Newcastle gave him a strong foundation to follow his dream of becoming a doctor.
UNSW was an obvious choice for Guy – in Year 11 he’d taken part in the Nura Gili Winter School, a week-long residential university preparation program for Indigenous students. It sparked a passion for education that would see him become the first in his family to go to university.
“The Nura Gili programs at UNSW showed me that there were a number of pathways into university. When I successfully completed the entry program for medicine and was accepted into the course, I couldn’t wait to get started.”
Fast forward two years and Guy couldn’t be happier with his choice. And he says 2013 is shaping up to be even better.
As part of an innovative Independent Learning Project scheme offered by UNSW Medicine, Guy will spend his third year undertaking research with Kong, who works at Newcastle’s John Hunter Hospital as an ear, nose and throat surgeon.
The placement was coordinated through the Rural Clinical School.
“It’s not every day you get to learn from Australia’s first Indigenous surgeon. I’m pretty excited about the opportunity,” says Dennis.
When Kelvin Kong completed his degree at UNSW in 1998, he was one of only 20 Indigenous medical graduates Australia-wide. Now there are around 150 Indigenous doctors practising and UNSW is home to the highest number of Indigenous medical students of any medical faculty in the country.
“UNSW is one of the leaders in bringing about change and pushing the boundaries in medicine. I think it’s absolutely amazing and as an alumnus that makes me extremely proud,” says Kong, who is also an Associate Professor in the Rural Clinical School.
“It’s a very exciting time to be in this area, especially with the numbers of graduates coming through. But getting a degree is only the first step – we need to make sure our trainee Indigenous doctors have careers, so supporting them through their specialist training is very important.”
Kong’s passion and commitment to closing the gap in Indigenous healthcare is stronger than ever.
“I have more fire in the belly now to push forward reforms for more equitable healthcare for Indigenous Australians.”
While Kong doesn’t necessarily see himself as a trailblazer, he does feel a responsibility to help the next generation of Indigenous doctors like Guy Dennis coming through.
“I make sure I find time to work with students and support the wonderful work the Rural Clinical School is doing.”
And he’s also full of praise for the Indigenous programs run by Nura Gili, which is committed to doubling Indigenous student enrolments at UNSW by 2015.
“The opening of the new centre, supported by the Balnaves Foundation, right in the middle of campus, will provide even better facilities to help more students realise their potential.”
For Dennis, Nura Gili has been a home away from home. “They provide a lot of support through the tutoring program as well as emotionally and culturally, which is especially important in the early days when you’re away from your family and friends.”
He’s particularly grateful to his tutor who “pulled me through first year. The program really helps set you up to succeed.”
Balnaves Place – Home of Nura Gili provides a central hub for Indigenous programs on campus, increasing UNSW’s capacity to provide Indigenous student support services and courses and research using state-of-the-art technological facilities with work and study spaces. The new centre was made possible by a generous donation of $1.5 million from The Balnaves Foundation.
Media contact: UNSW Media Office, 02 9385 2864