Refugee doctor retires after 38 years

An Auckland doctor, known for his dedicated service to migrants and refugees, has set his stethoscope aside after 38 years of practice.

Dr Nagalingam Rasalingam, 75, and his partner, Freddy Abeysekera have sold their Glen Innes practice, Line Road Medical Centre, to East Tamaki Health Care. The 6000-patient, very low cost access practice, founded in 1974, sold for $125,000, NZ Doctor reported.

Dr Ras, as he is affectionately known, received a Kiwibank local heroes award in 2010 for his longstanding service to ethnic communities.

Initially catering mostly to the white population of New Zealand, the practice now caters to the needs of mostly Asian migrants and refugee patients, the website reported.

“It began offering interpreter services and free care for under sixes long before government-funded schemes for both became available, Dr Ras told the website.

Dr Ras says he made his last house call in the 1970s. He went to see an asthmatic child but did not examine the boy because the child was fast asleep when he arrived. He did not charge the family house call fee of $2, and decided from that moment to stop charging for under sixes and to stop doing house calls.

He encouraged parents to bring their children to see him for early intervention, instead of waiting for a crisis, and hospital admissions dropped, says the NZ Doctor.

Dr Ras recalls a Pacific gentleman who came to see him in the 1980s with a belt fastened around his chest to “stop the pain”.  The incident showed the community’s poor health literacy at that time, Dr Ras says.

He and his practice partner have written to all their patients explaining they are retiring, and have received expressions of regret and bouquets of flowers in response.

Dr Ras plans to work as a researcher in refugee health after he retires from medicine, he told the NZ Doctor. His two children – one a cardiologist, the other a lawyer – are both living in the United States.

Dr Ras' contribution to refugee communities was recognised by a KiwiBank Community Heroes Award in 2010. (Image source: NZ Doctor)

He was felicitated by the Office of Ethnic Affairs in the recently concluded EthnicA conference in Auckland.

Mervin Singham, Director of the Office of Ethnic Affairs, says Dr Ras is a “hero” who is a “shining example of how migrants bring their skills and experience to make a difference to New Zealand.”

“His kindness, wisdom and persistence have had a real impact on the lives of those who most needed his support. He has looked on his professional expertise and his vocation as an opportunity for kindness and to make immense contribution to his community’s well-being.”


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