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15 Feb 2018

It is pretty hard to imagine someone being more inspirational than Associate Professor Kelvin Kong.

Australia’s first Indigenous surgeon – having qualified as the first Aboriginal Fellow of the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons and specialising in otolaryngology, head and neck surgery – he is passionate about bridging the health gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians.

Hailing from the Worimi people of Port Stephens, he now practices paediatric and adult ear, nose and throat surgery at Newcastle, NSW. He also lectures there.

His career to date is impressive and he is hugely committed to helping others pursue their own goals. Describing Dr Kong as enthusiastic would be an understatement.

Included in his long list of accolades is the AMA Indigenous Medical Scholarship.

A young Kelvin was the scholarship’s recipient in 1997.

Australian Medicine asked Dr Kong how important it was then to receive the award and how it seems now in retrospect.

“At the time it was extremely important,” he said.

“It wasn’t a huge amount of money, but for me it was. It certainly wasn’t a little amount of money, but I wouldn’t have cared if it was five bucks.

“The biggest impact it had on me was being recognised by my colleagues and the medical fraternity as someone who is legitimate.

“I was being told that I can make a contribution. I stand very proud as a recipient of this scholarship. I hope it has paid off and I hope those who sponsored it believe their contribution was worthwhile.

“I was mid-career with my studies, year 3-4, and at a time when we are pouring beers, waiting tables and all that kind of stuff just trying to get through.

“This meant I could pay my bills and put food on the table and spend more time trying to feel normal.

“It is important in retrospect to acknowledge the pure fact that the AMA thought that this was a big enough issue to get its Board to recognise and seek to fund.

“That was huge. It says a lot about the AMA as an organisation that it had that vision.

“Medicine is hugely competitive, so to get some acknowledgement is very important. It gave me a lot of inroads into mentorship and leadership and allowed me to contact people with similar values to me.

“Australia is a diverse community and so is its medical community. This was normalising that it’s ok to achieve.

“In the Aboriginal community and in the wider community there can be this misconception that people are ‘getting in’ on the back of them being Aboriginal. The actual fact is, there are a lot of hugely talented people in the Aboriginal community who will make an enormous contribution to medicine.

“That was a great vision and I am eternally grateful for being given that morale boost.”

Dr Kong has used his scholarship, and all of the honours that followed, to help him play his part in addressing the disparity – not only in health outcomes, but in career opportunities – between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians.

“It is important to acknowledge the disparity of opportunities for people who live in the same country,” he said.

“We have a very robust medical industry. I know there is talk of maybe awarding two of these scholarships each year. I think it would be fabulous if there were ten.

“I was asking myself ‘how can the AMA enhance this more?’ and I thought that maybe one way is by increasing the number of scholarships – increasing the number of donors.

“There is a greater awareness among Australia and the medical community that this is genuinely important and we give value to it. It gives me that boost. It must give donors that boost too.

“We have this disparity in health outcomes, but there is a genuine desire in governments, in associations like the AMA, and in the community to address this.

“I am extremely lucky, first and foremost. I love my profession. I love my work. I love coming to work.

“As a Worimi man, I am heartened that we are as an Australian community seeking to address this disparity.

“I live a fantastic lifestyle. But my mother never had this opportunity, my Nan never had this opportunity.

“They would have done a better job.”

He says with a smile.


 Information about donations towards the Indigenous Medical Scholarship can be found at:




Published: 15 Feb 2018