Drs Sing-Pey Chow and Michael Hogden's eyes on the prize
Ophthalmologists Drs Sing-Pey Chow and Michael Hogden have gone local with their patients, with the help of BOQ Specialist.Learn More
Australia's first Indigenous ophthalmologist, Yuggera/Biri-Gubba man Associate Professor Kristopher Rallah-Baker, thought it was time to branch out. He had already worked in the public health system and in outreach programs across Australia, but when an opportunity to move to Noosa came up, he grabbed it.
“I was working in the public clinic in Caloundra and one of my patients was a personal friend of the PA to the CEO at Noosa Hospital,” he says. “I had previously contacted that hospital and said I'd like to work at Noosa but didn't really get anywhere. But she spoke to her friend who spoke to the CEO and he offered some sessional rooms and some operating theatre space. Around the same time, the ophthalmologist who owned what is now my practice decided to sell. That was just a case of right people, right place, right time … lucky life, I guess.”
But you make your own luck. And Associate Professor Rallah-Baker’s list of professional accomplishments after only finishing his training a couple of years ago is much more due to hard work and commitment than to being in the right place at the right time. Before commencing his pathway into ophthalmology, he had developed and managed the Indigenous Health Unit in the Logan-Beaudesert Health Service District. He also worked to extend the Deadly Ears Indigenous Hearing Health Program across Queensland, which has since been adopted as the National Indigenous Hearing Health Program by the Federal Government.
“When I was working with the Deadly Ears Program, I met an ENT surgeon and he asked me what I’d like to do, and I said ophthalmology,” he recalls. “He was instrumental in introducing me to a number of key ophthalmologists in Brisbane.”
But his interest in ophthalmology stretched back to first year medicine. “That was firstly, because it was a mixed surgical specialty and I preferred the surgical specialties over the nonsurgical,” he says. “I enjoyed the complexity of the work and the people within ophthlamology—both patients and staff. The other factor was coming from an Indigenous background. Most of my local community had heard about Fred Hollows and the outreach work that he did across rural and remote Australia. I saw this could be a way of helping my community and giving back.”
While still training he worked with The Fred Hollows Foundation in Darwin and in remote communities across the Top End. Following the completion of his College exit examinations, he was awarded the Fred Hollows Foundation Fellowship, which saw him work for four months in Alice Springs and surrounding communities and three months at the Pacific Eye Institute, based in Suva, Fiji.
“I finished training in 2018 and I was doing quite a bit of outreach work,” he says. “I then started a bit of public work on the Sunshine Coast and moved up there. The reason for taking on a private practice was because I wanted to branch out. And the opportunity came up in Noosa.“
“His relationship with BOQ Specialist goes back to his earliest training days. “They've been very helpful over the years. Initially they helped me purchase my residential property, which was when I was training in Brisbane.
“Then when I began at Noosa Hospital, I needed some more expensive ophthalmic equipment, so they assisted with that. Then when it came to setting up the practice, they were the obvious choice. I also knew that they were very supportive of young doctors because my brothers are both dentists and they started a dental practice with the help of BOQ Specialist.”
“I think the secret to his success is he’s very driven, very focused and down to earth,” says BOQ Specialist’s Colin Taylor. “He's using high-quality financial advisers to help with his growth decisions and not just winging it. Also, he's thinking three steps ahead, which obviously means that when the opportunities actually come, he's already thought about and can jump on them quickly.”
The future is looking bright for Associate Professor Rallah-Baker in his new rooms. And even though he has a place to call home, he isn’t necessarily settling down. “I realised early on ophthalmology lent itself to doing outreach work,” he says. “Before COVID, I was doing quite a bit of outreach work, and then of course COVID quietened that down for a bit. But once we get on top of COVID, I’m looking forward to going back out and giving back to society, and the Indigenous community in particular.”
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