As one of the few Tamil Canadian female obstetricians and gynaecologists in the country, Dr. Shamini Kirupananthan is a sought-after doctor by women in the Toronto Tamil community. Dr. Kirupananthan is particularly passionate about refugee and immigrant health – driven by the stories she hears in her patient interactions – and has contributed to public health research and policy on health disparities in this population. She emmigrated to Canada 30 years ago, studied medicine in Dublin, Ireland, and now practices in a clinic she shares with her father, in Scarborough, Canada.
This year, I had the opportunity to go back to the place where our life in Canada started – rural Burin, Newfoundland. I got to practice at the same hospital where my father first started working in Canada. Many of the nurses and doctors even remembered him from 30 years ago. It was a homecoming of sorts as the place holds a special place in my heart. The beauty of the land and warmth of the people is a huge draw.
You say you hear life stories during your work. What are you hearing?
All day, I am privy to the life stories my patients tell me; whether that be how they survived the tsunami, but lost the love of their life, abuses they endure at home, or worries about their children. What can I say about these stories of grief, separation and settlement? All I do is try to provide a safe space. I feel this pressure to make sure that their time with me, that first point of contact with the Canadian system is positive. I want them to think this is a place that welcomes them. I want them to be happy that they chose to raise their families here.
***NOTE FROM TWR: Other doctors in Scarborough have long spoken about the need for cultural-sensitive mental health support in Toronto. Some good news – this fall, the members of the Canadian Tamil Medical Association raised funds at their gala for the Scarborough Hospital Foundation mental health initiative. It will fund a Tamil-speaking mental health worker to meet the needs of the Tamil Canadian community, especially newcomers, for the next two years.
Your secret sauce for getting stuff done:
I would not survive without my analog planner and lists. Also, asking for help when I need it. Sometimes there is a pressure in medicine not to readily ask for help and to work even when you clearly need a break. Prioritizing time for myself is something I still struggle with.
Describe a moment in your life when you knew this was what you wanted to do:
Applying to train in Obstetrics and Gynecology was a cerebral decision. In med school, no one field drew me in. So I made a list of the qualities I was looking for in a specialty: long term relationships with patients, the immediate gratification of using my hands to result in a positive outcome, with the potential to deal with high acuity situations, and a generally happy time in a patient’s life – Ob/GYN ticked all the boxes. It was a calculated risk. My first month in training, confirmed I’d picked correctly. The thrill of delivering a baby, of performing a simple procedure that drastically improved a woman’s quality of life, of learning new skills, brought me so much joy.
All this to say, don’t discount a field on first glance or exposure. Instead of specifically thinking of a speciality, drill down what brings you joy, what you would like your day to look like; the answer might surprise you.”
Your advice for people starting out in the field of medicine:
Seriously ask yourself why you want to do medicine. Then decide whether your honest answers are going to carry you through countless hours of study, sleepless nights and moments of self doubt, not to mention time away from loved ones. If you know what area of medicine you want to practice, try to find mentors in the same field. Their insight and experience is invaluable. While no one is going to understand what you’re going through better than someone else also in the middle of it,prioritize time with your tribe outside of medicine – they will keep you grounded.
If it is your calling, the sacrifice will have meaning. Otherwise, the sacrifice won’t feel worth it, and the threat of burn out will be ever present.”
The best career development or leadership book you’ve read:
To be honest, I cannot remember the last career development of leadership book I have had the time to read. However, I have listened to podcasts that have been eye opening. One that came highly recommended for female physicians is Katrina Ubell’s Weight Loss for Busy Physicians – many episodes have nothing to do with weight loss, but were so helpful in my approach and mindset to work, life and decision making. Another engaging podcast is NPR’s Hidden Brain by Shankar Vedantam with valuable insights from parenting and marriage, through to careers and creativity.
Photo Credit: Kalya Rocca Photography