Ophthalmologist

Kris Rallah-Baker

Kris Rallah-Baker admits (rather sheepishly) that he was one of those kids that seemed to have a handle on every subject in school. He was lucky, then, to be able to decide on the career he liked most rather than what he was best at.

“I was choosing between becoming a barrister and a doctor. I didn’t want to be getting stuck in courtrooms, so law was out. I liked that in medicine you’re affecting immediate change, one-on-one with patients.”

When it came to choosing a specialisation in medicine, the choice became a process of elimination.

“It was all a bit mucousy and snotty in ENT, and I didn’t like the thought of dealing with poo at 2am,” he says frankly. Ophthalmology it was.

Kristopher describes ophthalmology (the branch of medicine that deals with the eyes) as “clean” and “elegant” – a true sign that he’s a doctor at heart. He liked that ophthalmology deals with a single organ of the body, and that diagnoses are usually quite straightforward.

There was only one problem.

“I was a very bold 18 year old because the odds were against me. It’s such a competitive field of medicine.”

There are approximately 800 ophthalmologists currently practicing Australia-wide, with only 40 trainees studying the field each year.

But Kris had a strong drive to succeed, passed on to him by his mother and grandmother.

“I want to pay tribute to my mother and maternal grandmother who were incredible inspirations in my career,” he says. As Aboriginal Australians, Kris’ family endured the trauma of the Stolen Generation but came out fighting.

“They weren’t born citizens of this country. Nana had a very hard life and still made a great life by dreaming the impossible.”

Now, Kris is Australia’s first Indigenous ophthalmologist. He recognises the potential his career success has for inspiring the next generation of Indigenous kids to succeed, but says the change we need won’t happen overnight.

“Having Aboriginal ophthalmologists at the table brings a new perspective. These patients could be like me, they could be my uncle, they could be my cousins.

“The gap itself won’t be closed by me, but it helps the conversation move along.”

Kris says that being a role model in an academic field is so important in itself. Most Aboriginal role models seem to exist in the sporting world, but Kris wants to show these kids that they don’t have to be athletic to find success as an Indigenous Australian.

“I want these young kids to say, ‘Hey, I can be Indigenous and an academic and thrive.’”

– Eliza Brockwell

“I want these young kids to say, ‘Hey, I can be Indigenous and an academic and thrive.’”

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Eliza Brockwell

Author: Eliza Brockwell

Eliza is the Digital Producer for Careers with STEM. Eliza is passionate about creating content that encourages diversity of representation in STEM.

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