March 4, 2022

Saliya, Don and Alice

Dr Saliya Hewagama is an infectious diseases specialist and COVID lead at Northern Health. Professor Don Campbell, a respiratory physician, leads our Staying Well at Home program.

While their journeys as physicians have taken them down different paths, it also regularly takes them back to Alice Springs, to the Alice Springs Hospital, a major regional teaching hospital.

The Arrernte, the original inhabitants who have lived here for tens of thousands of years, know Alice Springs as Mparntwe.

Saliya first went there to take a break before his advanced training.

He liked what he saw. “I really enjoyed my time there – great friends, amazing landscape and really interesting medicine.”

Talking of amazing landscapes, the photographs below were taken by Saliya, a hobby he got into around the same time he went to Alice Springs.

Don first went there as a locum for two weeks in 2015. He has been going back there, every year since.

Seeing how Adam Goodes, AFL footballer, was treated by a spectator, was Don’s initial motivation.

“All I did was think, what can I do to help?”

“I subsequently met Adam Goodes by chance in an airport and told him the story. He is a hero for me,” says Don.

Speaking of his work there, he observes, “The quality of medical care is very high, the range of clinical experience you will have is very broad, the people who work there are friendly and supportive and come from very varied backgrounds.”

“I like the interaction with the visiting specialists, including cardiologists and respiratory physicians. I am in awe of the strength and rigor of the Renal Unit. Renal failure occurs at about 45 times the non-indigenous rate.”

“Most of all, it’s a chance for me to learn something about indigenous culture and to make a very small contribution towards medical care.”

Saliya acknowledges Alice Springs as the place, where, “I first started seriously thinking about infectious diseases as a career path.”

“The exposure into indigenous health, unfortunately with its high burden of disease at a younger age, is really something you don’t appreciate fully, working in Melbourne – or probably most major centres in Australia.”

Saliya completed his advanced training in infectious diseases in Melbourne, to return to Alice Springs in 2011 as a full-time general medicine and infectious disease consultant. He was there until the start of 2015 when he started at Northern Health. Saliya has been going back for two months of ward service every year since 2016.

So what takes them back to Alice Springs?

Don recommends forsaking the city “to spend some time in regional and rural Australia in some capacity, if the opportunity presents itself, whatever stage you are at in your life’s journey.”

He believes that, “In particular, Alice Springs is a wonderful opportunity for advanced trainees where you will be well supported.”

He quotes his friend in Alice Springs, Dr Megan Brown, “If you spend some time working in Alice Springs as a doctor, you will come back a better doctor, a better person and a better Australian.”

Saliya says what takes him back is, “Great medicine, great friends, knowing that I am making an impact and contributing – in a small way – to improving access to medical care for individuals that have a high burden of disease.”

“In many ways it’s a world away from life in Melbourne, and it’s good to be reminded of another side of Australia sometimes,” says Saliya.

Featured image: Professor Don Campbell, Divisional Director, Hospital Without Walls Program and Dr Saliya Hewagama, Infectious Diseases Physician, COVID Lead Northern Health.