As I mentioned yesterday, here is my first post of the new section ‘Mom with her story’. I got this wonderful chance to talk to Dr.Sripriya Santhanam,Oncologist & Physician.
I met Dr.Sripriya Santhanam two years ago at a non-profit group. But I got to know her more during one of the events organized by this group. Dr.Santhanam was one of the speakers and I was the event planner. She is a wonderful person with a very kind heart and deep thinking. When I thought of interviewing someone from medical field for this new section, she was my first preference. And luckily, she agreed to be featured.
Getting To Know Her: I am born and raised in Delhi,India and a mom to three boys. After receiving my MBBS in India, I moved to the US in 1999 and pursued further studies. I am Board Certified in Internal Medicine and Hematology and Medical Oncology. In clinical practice for 7 years.
Mothers Gurukul: Dr.Sripriya, you are a wife, a mom and a doctor; three very different and challenging roles. There might be some stressful days at work. How do you maintain a balance among the three? How do you manage to step out of the doctor role and enter the mommy role?
Dr. Sripriya: Yes, you are right. I have to play three very different roles at the same time. I would say the role change occurs during the commute time. For example, while going to work, my focus is on my patients at my clinic and at the hospital and I plan my work day accordingly. On my way back home, I start to think about my household chores, kids’ activities, their homework etc. I have to take some time to re-organize myself. I try not to take work home. It’s also not easy to completely forget my work day where I see extremely sick and dying patients. Sometimes the misery and sadness of the day’s work clings on and makes it very hard to adapt into my role change as a wife and mother but I, like most other women, have to wear many hats and slowly and steadily, get used to it as being part of life.
MG: Wow!! It is indeed not an easy task.
When it comes to culture, or practicing family traditions how do you look towards it being an immigrant parent? Do you think it’s a challenge?
Dr. Sripriya: Yes, it is a challenge. It is not an easy process. Growing in India, it’s a part of everyday routine. You don’t have to do anything extra to stay connected to your roots. But here, every single thing, every single action is being questioned none other than by your own kids. And you have to give satisfactory answers. I am not too much into religious practices but I am deeply bound to my culture. I try my best to inculcate it to some level not very ritualistic level. Temple, organizations like Chinmay Mission, Bal-Vikas, Balagokulam, HSS are helpful in this process. But again challenge is to get the kids to go there. Sometimes putting that practice in your schedule is not that easy. When kids are young they do what you say but later they want to know why they do certain things that their friends don’t? And that is very natural. I prefer not to force them but tell them the importance of knowing our culture. I tell them that there is so much to imbibe. Our culture is very open and has lot to learn from. Knowing more about your culture will make you more diverse, it will not make you look different. And it gives you identity. And I am sure, as they grow; with maturity they will realize the importance of that identity and the strength and uniqueness it gives each individual.
MG: Wonderful thoughts.
So, in this process do you invite your kid’s friends or you friends and celebrate Indian festivals?
Dr. Sripriya: Yes we do celebrate festivals with our friends. It creates lot of enjoyment and excitement for the kids. I want them to associate festivals with lot of positive memories that they get through these gatherings. Today, luckily most of the non-Indian friends are well aware of Indian festivals, especially Diwali. They enjoy being a part of our celebration. It definitely has a positive impact on our children to see them enjoying. Similarly, we celebrate Holi with our friends. We read Mythological stories at home like Amar Chitrakatha. Also, at school kids have to showcase their culture at many school events. During these events, I try to make these a family project so we can all learn together.
MG: Great!! Now moving towards your professional life. Why did you choose medical profession? Can you tell us something about your specialization?
Dr. Sripriya: Sure. My mother is a doctor. I grew up seeing her in that role, performing her duties with utmost dedication and regard for her profession. Coming from a middle class Indian family, we were expected to start thinking about our career paths as early as middle school and the options were limited to engineering, medicine and law. To be honest I could not foresee myself as an engineer or a lawyer. And I loved Biology so I had not a doubt in my mind about my future. After my MBBS, I trained as a Junior Resident in Radiology and then started my post-graduation in Pediatrics, then got married, came to USA. In the US, I decide to change paths and pursue adult medicine instead and hence chose Internal Medicine as my residency. As a resident, I was attracted to Gastroenterology as a sub-specialty but during my Oncology rotation had the chance to work with an extremely inspiring professor who was my mentor. That interaction and experience with her was a turning point in my career path. She was a very kind and empathetic lady, and a very smart physician. I could see the difference she made in her patient’s lives. In this field, the connection with the patient is at many different levels. So I made up my mind to pursue Hematology/Oncology and completed my fellowship and have been in practice ever since.
MG: That was wonderful and very touchy. So will it be appropriate to see it as another area of social service in terms of medical?
Dr. Sripriya: Well it is a service like other medical services. The difference is that I have to deal with terminal illnesses and delivering bad news is never easy. What is harder is seeing the family suffer just as much as the patient as they prepare to accept the loss of their loved one. But then there are the times when we are able to cure them and that feeling is one I cannot describe well enough in words, especially when it’s a young patient. It’s like giving a new lease of life and there is nothing more rewarding than that feeling of gratitude that I receive from the patients.
MG: Dr.Sripriya, you have been in this field from many years. If you could do anything differently, what would you change about it?
Dr. Sripriya: Yes, there are several things I would like to change. First is Affordability. Cancer care costs are exorbitant and simply beyond the poor man’s reach. In developing countries, thousands of people loose their lives to cancer daily because they simply cannot afford any of these inflated costs. Cost wise it is so expensive that not everyone can afford it. The second concern I have is the lack of general awareness and access to cancer care. I wish more education and resources are channeled into making people aware of prevention, screening techniques and early access to care.
MG: What is the most rewarding and challenging part of this job?
Dr. Sripriya: The rewarding moments are definitely the ones when I am able to convey good news of remission or cure. I see patient from many different walks of life, from different ethnic, work, financial and cultural backgrounds and as I try to help and treat them, I grow and evolve in many ways as well. Every day, hundreds of newer treatments to fight cancer are being discovered and I am grateful for being able to be part of the process as an instrument in delivering some of these treatments to the cancer victims. The hard moments are when I see my patients slipping away as their disease progresses. It’s also very hard to see some young patients who have potentially curable disease not wanting to accept any medical treatment. Many times they are in absolute denial. It is also sometimes challenging to deal with family members when they may have different or unrealistic expectations.
MG: Lastly, what tips you would like to recommend to all those who are reading this blog?
Dr. Sripriya: I would like to request all men and women reading this blog to be more aware about screening and preventive measures for cancer. Being a Yoga therapist and Reiki master, I am a strong proponent of holistic healing and advocate that prevention is always better than cure. Adopt a healthy lifestyle. Eat right and exercise. Incorporate healthy habits in children. Take some time out to relax your body and mind with meditation and yoga.
MG: Those were definitely very useful tips. And thank you so much Dr. Sripriya for taking time and sharing with us your story as a mom and as a doctor. We wish you all the success in your life.
That was Dr. Sripriya Santhanam with her story as a mom, a wife and a doctor. Very soon I will feature another mom with her story.
Have a great day!!