Conversations

In the beginning, I thought that 10 weeks would be enough for me to learn about everything that I wanted to and to be satisfied with myself at the end of my internship. As the end of 10 weeks approached, I started panicking. 10 weeks was just enough time to reel me into the wonder of the hospital and the lure me into the curiosity of Indian culture. In a way, my alarm at how little time I had left forced me to immediately think about the most important things I wanted to learn, and surprisingly, I simply wanted to interact more with the employees at Aravind. I was interested to see if and how their perspectives on working at Aravind are different because of their position in the hospital. And I simply wanted to learn more about them. During my last few days at Aravind, I had the pleasure of conversing with some the people that I have wanted to talk to at the hospital, but had procrastinated doing so until then. These are their compiled answers through our conversations.

“I initially came to Aravind without knowing about their infamous mission and values. I simply saw an advertisement in the Journal of Ophthalmology and applied. Immediately, I was impressed by the academic opportunities that Aravind provides for all levels of academics whether you are a resident, fellow, nurse, or even a doctor. The doctors and surgeons here were extremely well trained as well. Funny thing was, I am not from Tamil Nadu and so I was not familiar with the language (Tamil), but I that did not deter me from coming here because I was and still am passionate about my quest to learn more about my field. I have worked at Aravind for a while now, and in my time here, the most rewarding part of my job are the patients, the opportunity, and constant interaction to share ideas and knowledge with others in similar fields. I can’t imagine ever finding the same population of patients anywhere else. I love working with them and they are always so wonderful and thankful for what Aravind provides. Aravind is the best place to learn about the subject I love because it attracts a large and varied patient population, it has the technology that only select hospitals have in the rest India, and it implements the extraordinary assistance of free or subsidized surgeries for the patient population. It is absolutely incredible what Aravind has become. A main struggle that I have noticed with my time here is that it is difficult to allocate time for yourself and for family. I am passionate about my work and I love my patients, but it is hard to balance that with your own needs because there is always so much to do and to make yourself better so that you serve others better. Although Aravind provides numerous learning opportunities, it is also up to oneself to actively obtain the knowledge that they want. Especially in specialized fields, one must go out and search for additional learning opportunities. The best part of Aravind are the sisters and the patients. The sisters are often looked over, but they are the backbone of the hospital. They are the sweetest people but are also passionate about the success of the hospital. Everyone does their job to the highest of their ability, and it is truly extraordinary to see everyone working towards a single mission to eliminate needless blindness.”

It was only recently that I began to establish a deeper relationship with this doctor, but it didn’t require me much time to hear the excitement in her voice when she talked about her love of her work and the patients. I can only hope to find the passion that she has while I pursue my academic endeavors.

“I used to work as a consultant in but unfortunately, the company got closed down. I have two children, both are currently in college. I saw an ad for a housekeeping position in the Aravind hostel and applied. It’s not my favorite thing to do, but I am happy to do so because the money is needed for my children and family. Hopefully once my children are settled and are in the work force, I will not have to do this anymore. I am not aware about Aravind’s mission and values, I am just focused on making money for my family.”

Although our conversation was brief, I am thankful to gain perspective from someone who is not extremely affiliated with the hospital, but is still part of Aravind. I always saw her in my guest house, but only exchanged shy hellos. Her smile was so welcoming that I immediately felt more comfortable in an environment where I was unfamiliar with and made my day a little brighter. Our conversation also reminded me of the sacrifices that my parents too have made to provide for their family, for which I take for granted at times.

“Ever since I was younger, I was interested in medicine. This may have been because a couple of my relatives, and I saw the respect and stability that came with medicine. After taking my entrance exam and having the opportunity to obtain my medical degree, I narrowed down my interests to ophthalmology. Although Aravind is extremely hectic on all days of the week, I still love it and it is what I had expected. I love that it allows me to have a huge exposure to the many different types of surgery cases due to its high patient volume that I would not be able to get at any other hospital. At a different hospital, I would say that residents would get an average of 100 surgeries in 3 years. At Aravind, it would be a minimum of 200 cases. I am also amazed at the equal quality of eyecare given to each patient regardless of background or income. The doctors here are all so passionate about what they do and they are extremely caring towards the patients. I learn not only about surgical technique from the doctors but how to care and speak to a patient – I was initially more impatient and awkward, but after seeing the doctors speak and calm patients with ease, I feel more comfortable in what I do. I still have 3 years left at Aravind. Right now, I am practicing my sutures in the wet lab, and hopefully in a few months, I will be practicing on a real eye. Next month, I will be on night duty, which is when residents are on call throughout the night in cases of emergencies. This is also a period of absolutely no sleep, so I am not excited for it! Because we are so busy working 6 days a week typically from 7 or 7:30am until 5:30pm (or later if there are meetings, conference calls, or additional classes), I am unable to visit my family as often as I would like. I have an older sister who just completed dental school and a younger brother. I originally applied to be at a different branch, not the Aravind in Pondicherry, because the climate at the other branch was similar to Kerala; unfortunately, my first choice filled up.”
I had a closer relationship with Ruksana than I had with other residents, but it was still difficult to meet up because we had different schedules. She was always genuinely friendly and concerned for my travels and time at Aravind, and she always helped in any way she could. Ruksana initially approached me one day while I was walking to the hospital because she had heard that I wanted to go to Kerala. Being from Kerala herself, Ruksana was wondering if she could offer any advice or guidance into traveling there. IT WAS SO SWEET. I wish her the best of luck in her next 3 years at Aravind and for her bright future.

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Ruksana and I after eating dinner one night

*Some names have not been used for anonymity

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About Quan Quan

Upcoming junior at the University of Pennsylvania studying Biological Basis of Behavior while struggling to stay on the premed track. Interning at Aravind Eye Hospital for the summer of 2017 in Puducherry, Tamil Nadu.