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inspire: shanika sharma alwis

This month in "inspire", we caught up with Shanika Sharma Alwis on the balance being a fantastic doctor and a devoted mother!

1) As a UK qualified doctor, you made the decision to return to Sri Lanka, what motivated you to make this move?

To be perfectly honest, it wasn't a tough decision to move back home. I left to the UK in 2002 for my studies knowing that when I qualify I would come back to Sri Lanka. There is a big need for good doctors to be available to the under privileged. Within the medical profession, there is a lot brain drain, with good doctors being forced to seek employment abroad due to the low salaries being earned in Sri Lanka. The biggest motivation to come back was the ability I would have to help and treat people in my homeland, where there is a desperate need for more and more doctors. 2) What are the biggest challenges you face (or have faced) as a female foreign educated doctor in Sri Lanka and what advice would you give to those considering making the same move?

The biggest challenge I have faced by far is with the language. I was educated in an international school and then had my medical training in the UK so for all intents and purposes English has been my first language. Not being able to converse fluently in my mother tongue served as a barrier when trying to understand the symptoms my patients were facing. It led to some very funny moments of me having to act out most of the symptoms to the patient and even shock the patients by using the completely wrong word to explain things to them. Since I returned in 2009, my Sinhalese skills have greatly improved but I still struggle with patients who speak in Tamil. I am now learning Tamil to be of more help to the Tamil speaking community.

My biggest advice to anyone considering moving back to Sri Lanka is to learn the languages of our homeland to be able to improve the standard of service provided, be it, health care or any other profession.

3) Not only are you a fantastic doctor, you are the definition of a devoted mum to two beautiful girls - how do you prioritise your time with them? I am blessed with the most wonderful two girls who take up most of my time. I decided that during their tender years of life, I was going to let my career take 2nd place to focus on them. I can already see such a positive outcome with the time I invest into them. They are confident, loving and secure. I have not missed a moment of the magic of watching them grow up and this is something I will always cherish for my entire life. Having said that, I do work, because I think that it’s important for children, especially girls, to see their mothers work. I work 3 days a week which allows me to balance my time perfectly between work, family and maintaining a home. This way I have quality time with my family and quality time at work. My wonderful support system – my husband & both our extended families have been imperative in this journey!

4) What got you into barre and why do you like it?

Barre was a new exercise routine introduced to Colombo by one of my best friends. So, I tried it out and I absolutely loved it from the very first class. I was anxious that I would not be able to do all the moves but Nare is an expert, and she has plenty of alternative exercises if you are unable to do one. She possesses a great knowledge of all the muscles groups and bones so that you do all the movements without causing injury to any part of your body.

And it is quite a work out! Can’t believe how much of a work out the muscles get with the simple and calming moves. It is a fantastic class and I highly recommend it to everyone.

5) You come from a family of strong females - especially your grandmother - what is the biggest value she imparted to you in life?

There is so much to say about my grandmother. She was a wonderful lady with a strong will and an unshakable faith in Jesus. She has taught me so much and every day I learnt something invaluable by just being with her. The biggest value she has imparted to me is to seek God first in life and everything else will be added to me. Seeking God first helps me to be a more calm and compassionate person throughout the day which really helps me hold everything together when we are juggling so many things are the same time.

I thank God every day for the privilege of being able to call her my grandmother.

Shanika currently practices at Lanka Hospitals.

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