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7 – 14 July 2024
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Professor Kelvin Kong

Professor Kelvin Kong

Person of the Year

Professor Kelvin Kong is a Worimi man who grew up on Country in Port Stephens, on the New South Wales mid-north-coast. Kelvin graduated from the University of New South Wales to become Australia's first Indigenous surgeon. He credits his mother, Grace Kinsella, a pioneering Indigenous registered nurse, for inspiring him and his older sisters, twins Marlene and Marilyn, to become doctors. Their father, Kong Cheok Seng, a Malaysian Chinese man, is also a doctor.

Professor Kong, now works on Awabakal and Worimi Country, and is associated with the University of Newcastle's School of Medicine and Public Health. He is an Otolaryngology, Head and Neck surgeon and a Fellow of the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons (RACS). Kelvin works at Newcastle's John Hunter Hospital and John Hunter Children’s Hospital, and he explains that hearing loss, often caused by Otitis Media (middle ear disease), significantly contributes to poor educational outcomes for children and can lead to higher unemployment rates in adults as a result. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children experience the highest levels of chronic otitis media in the world, affecting up to 70% of children in remote communities.

Determined to change the statistics, Dr Kong has dedicated his career to early intervention. Dr Kong says “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”.

Dr Kong is passionate about addressing the disparity in health outcomes between Indigenous and non-Indigenous children. Each year, he spends a portion of his time working in, and for, remote Indigenous communities providing access to quality healthcare that would otherwise be limited or completely unavailable. This includes visiting the Kimberley’s each year to perform specialist consultations and surgery.

He is also passionate about improving pathways into specialist medical training and improving Indigenous workforce across the health and research sector. Dr Kong mentors high school students to encourage more Indigenous people to consider careers in medicine and surgery.

In 2011, Dr Kong joined other medical practitioners in the Care for Kids' Ears campaign to address the ongoing issues experienced by remote communities. The campaign was designed to encourage communities to be empowered with resources and information about ear health to reduce the risk of ear disease and hearing loss. Dr Kong is passionate in his advocacy in which he centres the importance of working together as a community - "When we work together with a community, we can address all the issues that arise from ear disease. Our job is to improve kids' health so they can get the education they need."

Some of Dr Kong's many roles include:

  • First ever identified Indigenous Fellow, and current Chair of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Advisory Committee for the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons’ (RACS).
  • Examiner, Royal Australasian College Surgeons
  • Mentor Surgical Pathways for Indigenous Australians
  • Public and Private practice in Newcastle, at Hunter ENT Surgery
  • Professor and mentor at the University of Newcastle
  • Honorary Professor Macquarie University
  • Associate Professor UNSW
  • Clinical lead, ENT Outreach services HNELHD
  • Indigenous Lead, Australian Society Otolaryngology, Head & Neck Surgery
  • Researcher; Successful in numerous NHMRC grants, awards and collaboration
  • Chair, Advisory Group for reporting on the Ear and Hearing Health of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people
  • Member, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Ear and Hearing Health Partnership Committee
  • Served on multiple advisory boards and committee’s including the Indigenous Health and Fellowship Services Committee
  • Previous Board member for the National Centre of Indigenous Excellence (NCIE)
  • Previous Board member Cancer Australia’s Advisory Board
  • Previous Board Member Hearing Australia
  • Previous secretary of Australia and New Zealand Society Paediatric Otolaryngology (ANZSPO)
  • Recently, Dr Kong received an Honour Roll mention for Australian of the Year

Many of our young Mob are labelled as problems, too difficult, described as having learning difficulties, or as not wanting to learn. The truth is that due to the complex legacy of colonisation, under-funded communities, and racism, many of our young people are living with undiagnosed and treatable medical issues that create barriers to learning, education, employment and healthy living.

It is Dr Kong’s goal to ensure that these barriers are eradicated and that our Mob have equal access to quality health care to enable them to have every opportunity in life.

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