Playing her own tune ~ Sharda Bapat

Sharda cried through her examination as she wrote her papers (Earlier story: Walking her own path). She however scored well in her final examination eventually and got admitted to Wadia Hospital to start her journey of medical education. She spent almost all her savings for this medical education.

The arduous journey of  becoming a Doctor

Her life after joining the medical course was hectic but fulfilling as well. Since she was curious about it for a long time, she enjoyed learning all those the pre-clinical subjects and even topped many of her examinations there. Her day would typically start by dropping her son to her parents’ home and then attending her medical college. She was also running her own business at that time, though she had already hired and trained few assistants before she actually started her medical education. Nevertheless, being a partner in a flourishing business required her to make decisions and sign few documents as well. Her staff sent her message whenever they needed her signatures, and she would run there in her breaks, do the formalities and rush back to her lectures. Having her college and hospital right opposite her office did help a bit as well, but I am still awestruck by her multi-tasking ability and grit to work through obstacles.

Wadia Hospital had a tie-up with Angeles University Foundation, Philippines for their medical course and they were hoping to get recognition for their complete course including clinics so that they could run the entire course in India. However, they did not get the anticipated recognition and that meant these students had to fly to Philippines for clinics in order to complete their course. This was another challenge for Sharda since she not only had to live by herself in an unknown country, but she also had to ensure that her family here won’t suffer in her absence. She resigned from the electronic safety devices business that was doing quite well. Interestingly, the profits they made during previous couple of years put a good amount back her in savings that she had spent for medical admission. She hired few house-helps and trained them well. She also asked her husband, Narendra to take few lessons in cooking. Coincidentally, he got photographed in that cooking workshop and he was featured in a local newspaper. He enjoyed that short fame and even joked that he was actually conducting that workshop. 😀

The medical education abroad had another set of formalities, one of them was procuring an eligibility certificate. It turned out to be another hurdle since officials at Delhi didn’t understand her case and taking 12th examination twice. Her husband, Narendra actually went and explained the situation to those officials in Delhi to get that certificate. I am really impressed by his support – pacifying and persuading Sharda to take her 12th standard examination after her mother’s demise and then helping her through such inevitable bureaucratic hurdles every now and then. This is especially touching since initially he was against the idea of joining medical course when Sharda returned from her US road trip, and they even had few altercations over it. I think that’s what spouses can do; they can help you pull yourself up in dire situations, stand by you silently but firmly when you need them, and they often indulge in fights every now and then! 🙂

Sharda mentions that they had to pull out a map to figure out where Philippines is exactly located; though she is an avid traveller, having travelled to 30 countries and 10 states in India. This relocation and studying in Philippines has several interesting stories. It is the second most-populous Asian country (following India) with English as an official language. The influences of 300+ years of Spanish rule and more recent American tutelage are evident in their culture. Being a vegetarian, she initially struggled to find vegetarian restaurants there and was appalled by the smell of burning fat on the streets, where hawkers sold fast-food with few types of meat, and pork being their local favourite.

She worked at the state-of-the-art University hospital and also at government setup where she got exposure to variety of cases. The medical course at Angeles University Foundation, Philippines is MD similar to the US – an integrated post-graduate medical degree, and it had few extra courses that would have extended her study & stay there. She discussed this with the dean of the university and explained him that she has already completed B.A. and LLB earlier in India. He assured her that she could be exempted from those extra courses after submitting authenticated copies of the documents. And as you might have already guessed it by now, it wasn’t a straight-forward task to get it from India, but eventually she (through her husband) got those documents and exemption as well. She also topped her exam at Philippines.

Sharda Bapat - during her medical course in Philippines
Sharda Bapat (in green robe) – during her MD course in Philippines

Most of Sharda’s classmates in her college were much younger than her and their weekend activities didn’t really interest her much. She is fond of playing tennis and found a tennis court there, she made good friends with a lady who was almost a decade older. This lady helped her a lot during her stay there and Sharda even invited her to India recently. The last year of her clinical duty at Angeles University Foundation, Philippines did not really have any off days – so it is almost 365 days of work with no holidays in between. That year is the most demanding part of the course because students hardly get any rest, are overworked and sleep deprived for almost a year. Sharda completed it successfully, but she confesses that it wouldn’t have been possible for her if she had family and other responsibilities at that time.

But before that gruelling year commenced, she had free weekends. And can you guess how she spent her time on those weekends? She learnt to fly planes and even earned her wings. Let me tell you that story…

Flying through the clouds

During Christmas of 2006, her family visited her in Philippines for their vacation. Philippines is a beautiful country with more than 7,000 islands and Filipinos often use small planes to travel there. They visited Mount Pinatubo volcano, which erupted in 1991-1992 and caused widespread devastation. However, it is now a tourist attractions – the crater of the volcano is a beautiful, wide lake and the water is crystal clear. She flew there with her family and realized that the flying base at Clark was hardly 30 minutes drive for her residence in Philippines. She also came to know that they have a flying school there and it was possible for her to get her private pilot license while she was studying to be a doctor. She jumped at the opportunity and started flying.

There are some funny, and some scary stories about her flying. For example, unlike cars the acceleration is controlled by hands and direction by feet – it took her some time to get adjusted to that. They also had to pull their small two-seater planes occasionally to take them from one place to another – she managed to do it properly and enjoyed that. Once she damaged the plane accidentally while landing, but the flying school CEO comforted her, assuring that her safety is more important. In another scary incident, she was flying solo and suddenly the weather changed drastically and it started raining. She was perplexed and didn’t know what to do – fortunately two clouds in front of her moved apart making a small way for her plane, she passed through that quickly but lost her direction in the process. After some time she recognized a big mall in the nearby town and with the help of the control tower instructions she managed to land back safely.

Sharda Bapat flying her plane in Philippines
Sharda Bapat flying her plane in Philippines

Her final flying exams for the private pilot license was at Manila. She decided to fly there along with her instructor but again due to bad weather, the Manila air traffic control denied her permission to land there. Her instructor landed plane at the nearby small airport and asked her to take bus to reach Manila. She took the bus, but her examination center was quite far from the bus terminal. She hired a rickshaw to reach there, but that guy couldn’t understand her instructions properly and took her elsewhere. It took her quite some time to reach the examination center and this delay costed her scheduled exam slot. All these unexpected detours messed up her plans and anticipated return to her university. Her instructor had to fly back, though she was allowed to take her exams in the next two available slots.  It was a long and hard day for her with little food that she grabbed in the break between two exams, but finally she cleared her exams and got her private pilot license.

I guess, by then she was proficient at tackling bad weather and landing smoothly on her own, literally as well as metaphorically. 🙂

Landing home

Sharda finished her final toilsome year of 365 days hospital duty at Philippines, and returned to India in 2008. Being severely sleep deprived during her work earlier, she spent few weeks catching up on her sleep at home. The house-helps that she had trained took care of the house and her son and husband were just fine. She almost felt like being in heaven where everything ran smoothly and she only woke up occasionally to have her meals.

Since she had obtained medical degree from a foreign country, she got her provisional registration from Medical Council Of India (MCI) and started her one-year internship at Ruby Hall Clinic. Despite all that hard work, getting permanent MCI registration turned out to be another obstacle. I’ll save you that long, familiar story of bureaucratic experiences. As it turned out, MCI had sent a query to Maharashtra State Board about her higher school certificates and they didn’t know how to answer that. With the timely help from their family friend, she handled that issue and finally got that coveted MCI registration.

She worked with a senior critical care consultant at Ruby Hall as a research associate providing clinical assistance as well. While working there she was involved in research and validated models for mortality prediction with the senior consultant. With her insights about data and analytics, she excelled at medical research and has published some interesting research papers. She also worked as a visiting physicians with few corporates for few years. She fondly recollects how Dr. Nayak taught her nuances of medicine as she worked with him.

Sharda is extremely grateful for all the help that she received from several people during her incredible journey. In fact, she met all the people who helped her to become a doctor and thanked them personally with a small gift.  Of course, not all the people she worked with in different spheres were helpful and nice. She had few painful experiences of betrayals as well, but she has put these bad experiences behind her now and moved on. She is someone who would rather count on her blessings, few of which are captured in a picture below.

Dr. Sharda Bapat with her husband - Narendra, son- Karan and pet - Sonya
Dr. Sharda Bapat with her husband – Narendra, son – Karan and pet – Sonya

The rainbow of her work

All her learning, expertise and interests have culminated in her current work. Rather, she has built her work around who she is and what she stands for. Given her proficiency in understanding, analyzing data and her medical knowledge, she is helping an organization to build healthcare solutions with machine learning. She is also a part of initiative The Poona Citizen Doctor Forum (PCDF) that strives to build trust among citizens/patients and doctors, and they also promote ethical rational medical practice. She is a proponent of Universal Health Care (UHC) as well. She doesn’t spend too much time on some of these activities, but her multi-layered insights and contributions are precious.

Sharda is an ENFJ with a slight preference to extroversion, making her more of an ambivert really. ENFJs are passionate, charismatic and natural leader. Having known her for some time now, I think she is more of an influencer than a conventional leader. ENFJs are typically energetic and driven, and often have a lot on their plates (how true!). They love to walk the talk (she does), and enjoy leading the cause they believe in. She seems to be doing this in PCDF and through her own vision of improving healthcare. She was briefly associated with a newer political party that emerged against corruption and she appreciates the difference they are making in education and healthcare in India.

Her diverse interests are always expanding and her learning continues – she has learned piano few years ago and even passed the Trinity College London’s grade IV certification. I already mentioned that she has travelled 30 countries so far. She is experimenting with natural farming on her farm now with minimal inputs or interference.

Despite all these diverse interests and activities that she pursues, she doesn’t usually seem rushed. As Thoreau would have put it, she does not crowd her day with work, but will saunter to her task surrounded by a wide halo of ease and leisure. She is quite warm, soft-spoken and has this calming presence and voice. Her grit and perseverance are unparalleled, she is in the league of her own. It is fascinating to see what all a multipotentialite could pursue and achieve if they get a chance to nurture all their interests. Moreover, it is never about flaunting or proving yourself – it is just natural; doing it because you enjoy doing it.

Dr. Sharda Bapat is one blessed soul who personifies this. Here is her short message exclusively for My Zen Path readers.


Note:

This MyZenPath story about Dr. Sharda Bapat is independent and based on my interaction with her personally at her residence. Her story was first publicly told by a local Marathi magazine Maher in March 2018 and she was recently interviewed at Vedh, Pune conducted by IPH as well.

The featured image:

The featured image shows Dr. Sharda Bapat playing piano at her home and captured by her son’s friend Sagar Dani. All other photos used in these two articles are provided by Dr. Sharda Bapat herself and I am using them here with gratitude.