19 February

Order of Australia Medal 2024

  Member of the Order of Australia (AM) in the General Division  2024 Professor Kelvin Kong, NSW    For significant service to medicine as an Otolaryngologist, and to Indigenous health.    Surgery  • Otolaryngology, Head and Neck Surgeon, Hunter ENT, since 2008.  • ... Read more >>>

27 July

World Head and Neck Cancer Day

The International Federation of Head & Neck Oncologic Societies invites you to observeJuly 27th World Head & Neck Cancer Day. Together with 55 Head and Neck Societies, 51 Countries, several Government Agencies and UICC. Read more >>>

27 July

2023 NAIDOC Person of the Year Award

Congratulations to Professor Kelvin Kong on receiving this award. 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 ... Read more >>>

27 January

OAM for NSW Member

ASOHNS congratulates A/Prof Richard Gallagher on receiving MEDAL (OAM) OF THE ORDER OF AUSTRALIA IN THE GENERAL DIVISION -  For services to medicine as a surgeon. St Vincent's Health Network Director Cancer Services, since 2015. Director Head and ... Read more >>>


Order of Australia Medal 2024


Member of the Order of Australia (AM) in the General Division 


Professor Kelvin Kong, NSW 


For significant service to medicine as an Otolaryngologist, and to Indigenous health. 



• Otolaryngology, Head and Neck Surgeon, Hunter ENT, since 2008. 

• Visiting Medical Officer Surgeon, various public and private hospitals within the Hunter New England Local Health District, current. 


• Professor, School of Medicine and Public Health, The University of Newcastle, current. 

• Honorary Professor, Macquarie University, current. 

• Associate Professor, University of New South Wales, current. 

Australian Indigenous Doctors Association 

• Founding Member. 

• Board Member, 2007-2008. 

• Chair, Healthy Futures Best Practice Project, 2004-2005. 

• Eastern Region Representative Board Member, 2001-2004. 

• Student Representative, 1998. 

Professional Associations 

• Former Secretary, Australian and New Zealand Society for Paediatric Otolaryngology. 

• Former Member, Australian Society of Otolaryngology Head and Neck Surgery. 

• Sub-Committee Member, Council of Presidents of Medical Colleges, 2008-2015. 

Menzies School of Health Research 

• Joint Chair, Hearing for Learning Initiative, since 2019. 

• Member, Centre of Research Excellence in Otitis Media of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Children, 2012. 

Royal Australasian College of Surgeons (RACS) 

• Former Court of Examiners. 

• Mina Chair, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Committee, current¶ 

• Member, Indigenous Health Committee, 2015-2019, and Chair, 2008-2015. 

• Member, Fellowships Services Committee, 2008-2015. 

• Member, GSK Immunisation Schedule, 2008-2010. 

• Chair, Indigenous Health Working Party, 2007-2008. 

• Executive Board Member, Divisional Group of Rural Surgeons, 2007-2008. 

• Member, Indigenous Health Working Project, 2006-2007. 




2023 NAIDOC Person of the Year Award

Congratulations to Professor Kelvin Kong on receiving this award. 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. 



It should shame us that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians have such poor health outcomes. They die 10 years younger and have much higher death rates than non-indigenous people across all age groups and for all major causes of death.


Heart disease, advanced cancer, diabetes and subsequent kidney failure, untreated blindness and childhood deafness are far too common. Cancer is diagnosed later and incomplete treatment is almost the norm. The rate of First Nations’ discharge against medical advice, an indicator of health systems’ successfully engaging patients, is eight times higher than for non-indigenous Australians. Despite employing Aboriginal liaison officers, hospitals are failing First Nations people.

Health messages are being ignored: 39 per cent of indigenous people smoke daily compared with 14 per cent of the Australian population. Consequently, heart disease is eight times higher in middle-aged indigenous Australians. The commonest cancers in First Nations people are lung and head and neck (mouth and throat), both smoking-related. Diabetes is three times more prevalent and chronic renal failure, an indicator of poor diabetes management, is five times higher. 

 Last year’s Australian Medical Association report card on Closing the Gap highlights that health systems are designed for “equity of outcome”. But something is wrong when First Nations people are 10 times less likely to be added to a kidney transplant waiting list and 30 per cent less likely to be offered cataract surgery. 

Health expenditure on those with greater needs should be higher. Combined public and private hospital costs of First Nations people with cancer and musculoskeletal disease (hip and knee replacements and so on) are lower than for non-indigenous Australians. The cost of mental and behavioural disorders, diabetes and injuries are higher. 


The lower cost of orthopaedic and musculoskeletal services but higher rates of obesity and injuries reflect the lack of access to public health services. The higher rates of cancer but lower spend on cancer services for First Nations people is disgraceful. 


We may pride ourselves on our multiculturalism, but “otherness” and pigeonholing are everywhere. 


Assumptions by staff that the indigenous patient will not turn up for an operation mean they often are not placed on theatre lists. The reasoning that remote indigenous people will not arrive when a matched kidney donor becomes available at necessarily short notice may explain the one-tenth rate of indigenous people offered a place on transplant lists. 


Indigenous people are slower to access medical services to investigate health complaints. The abdominal pain or rectal bleeding that signifies a possible bowel cancer is just too hard to investigate when you have to leave a safe environment and dependent children to travel many hours by car and then train or plane to a potentially unsafe hostel to be seen by white health professionals who don’t understand your thinking and culture.  


Then the assumption is often made that the appointments for investigations that may have long waiting lists and require other long journeys won’t be kept. 


Canada and the US have similar indigenous health issues, although not as bad. Each is building First Nations hospital networks run by indigenous organisations for indigenous patients. The hospital is “culturally safe” in design and staffing. Cancer investigations are expedited, as are ear and eye surgeries that are relatively cheap and simple. 


Diabetes and chronic renal failure with dialysis are treated in a sensitive environment that encourages engagement and participation. Indigenous hospitals can be training centres for indigenous employment from nursing to accounting and building maintenance. They can be places where non-indigenous health professionals are taught cultural sensitivity and about the health and emotional needs of our 800,000 First Australians. 


St Vincent’s Healthcare Australia has allocated funding from its inclusive health program to test the viability and business case of a First Nations hospital and health network proposed for Inala in Brisbane. Its steering committee is led by Noel Hayman, Queensland’s first Aboriginal doctor and specialist public health physician. He is director of the Inala Indigenous Health Service, which is associated with the University of Queensland. He is being advised by Kelvin Kong, Australia’s first Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander surgeon, and other respected and senior specialists.


There are 85,000 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders living in the neighbourhood of the Inala centre. That is the population of Bundaberg, which has a 240-bed public hospital with five operating theatres and an endoscopy suite, along with three private hospitals with 10 operating rooms and four theatres for endoscopies.


It is envisaged the Inala health centre hospital will be a 23-hour hospital for indigenous patients to enable them to comfortably enter the hospital system. It will have the cancer surgeons and endoscopists to screen for the cancers that present in great numbers and are too advanced to cure. 


It will be a waiting list reduction hospital for non-indigenous people. It would be a culturally sensitive place with good, clean hostel accommodation next door. This Aboriginal hospital will screen for cancer of the lungs, bowel, throat and breast. Patients then can be referred directly to the major tertiary hospitals including Princess Alexandra, Logan and QEII, and the patients will be supported in that journey. The Inala First Nations hospital also can help patients in other areas where results are still poor — dental care, dialysis and palliative services.


If a sustainable model of care for indigenous Australians can be built in Inala, other indigenous hospitals could be built elsewhere. We have to close the gap. Spare capacity in these indigenous hospitals could be filled with the overflowing non-indigenous waiting list patients. Everyone’s a winner.


Planning for Inala makes the case that Australia can catch up with Canada and the US in addressing poor indigenous health outcomes with a well-funded indigenous hospital and health network. Now the community needs to face the challenge of funding the building and ensuring sustainable ongoing resourcing. We need equality of outcome in First Nations health to start to close the gap in education and economic outcomes. Today’s healthcare model fails them.


Christopher Perry is an associate professor at the University of Queensland. This essay was published in The Australian 3 July 2019

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