Dr Kishan Pandithage is a GP and medical educator from the NT. His significant contributions to medical education and training in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health were recognised in 2018, when he was awarded the RACGP Standing Strong Together Award.
Originally from Sri Lanka, Dr Pandithage came to Australia to study medicine in Adelaide. After a challenging period during training and the commencement of a career in pathology, his wife, who is from Darwin, suggested he take a six-month working holiday in the Top End.
‘I visited Darwin to take a break from a specialty program that I was jaded with and met Dr Sam Heard. Sam inspired me to take the challenge of general practice, and I have never looked back since.’
Dr Pandithage undertook his general practice training alongside well-known NT-based GPs Sam Heard, Emma Kennedy and Simon Morgan, and cultural educator, Ada Parry. Working with Ms Parry had a huge impact on Dr Pandithage’s approach to medical education and his role in teaching students.
‘It's important for us non-Indigenous [people] working in the space to learn from someone like Ada, because her experience is so vast and not just limited to one aspect of Aboriginal culture or health. She sets us straight when we need to be set straight, but she also makes us laugh, which is totally invaluable.’
For Dr Pandithage, his general practice journey progressed from practicing medicine, working in AMS and then going out to communities as a medical educator. He eventually started working with the cultural team at Northern Territory General Practice Education, where he reunited with Ada Parry. In this role, the team prepared and supported junior doctors for their term in remote communities, and he gained a deeper understanding of how Ms Parry worked with medical students.
‘A snapshot of my journey – medical student days to specialist training to general practice and my involvement with Aboriginal people.’
It was around this time that Dr Pandithage was invited to work with the Indigenous GP Registrars Network (IGPRN). Established in 2008, the IGPRN was founded by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander GPiTs who sought to address issues of cultural isolation and safety, discrimination and other unique challenges on their pathway to Fellowship. Dr Pandithage was invited by one of the founding doctors, Dr Aleeta Feejo, to become a medical educator for the IGPRN.
‘These [were] very early days. There weren’t a lot of Indigenous doctors, especially in education. I was one of the main educators for them [IGPRN] for a while, and that gave me the opportunity to meet a lot of Indigenous doctors as registrars.’
We took about 15 to 20 Aboriginal doctors to Sri Lanka, myself and few others, and gave them an experience in remote Sri Lanka to compare and contrast with remote clinics in Australia. They [the students] also got a chance to know a little bit more about me and get a little bit of into the culture, which I think they enjoyed.
‘The year after that trip, two of the doctors that went with me nominated me for the RACGP Standing Strong Award and I won it. Either the trip or something else worked.’
Dr Pandithage won the RACGP Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Standing Strong Together Award in 2018, in recognition of his significant support of the IGPRN in Australia and for his mentoring and teaching of Indigenous GPiTs for attainment of their FRACGP.
‘Now I look back at a lot of doctors who are in [the] IGPRN, and now they're doing their own education, and one time that I've been part of their life going through the exams. The bond that you develop is quite special.’