Dr Apurna Jegannathen
- Why did you choose the career you have?
I’m a ‘people person’ and I am passionate about making people feel happy. Every day I work with a cancer patient I get an opportunity to make their lives better, which makes the job worthwhile. I consider my patients as my own family, we celebrate and cry together. Science has always fascinated me, especially cancer biology. Oncology has revolutionised medicine with the explosion of major advances in cancer treatment and ever-expanding research to conquer it.
It’s in my nature to want to face up to incredible challenges and take risks in life, to reach above and beyond to fight for one’s survival. It’s also my passion and belief to share the warmth, love, care, trust and confidence towards suffering patients. It’s my dream to bring trustworthy positive changes and support to patients with cancer. My personality makes me who I am and I won’t easily give up without a fight for the right cause.
- What challenges have you faced getting to where you are now?
It’s been a long, hard journey to get to where I am, but now I have been successful in clinical research, with many articles published. I have served in a clinical director post for three years in the trust and have helped to bring in a new service which has saved the life of several cancer patients.
When I was 25 I completed an MD in General Medicine in India. The three-year degree between 1994 and 1997 included research, submission of a thesis and dissertation on top of full time working and studying outside work. I was also married and during this time began bringing up two children! I was a daughter, a wife, a mother of two kids, working full time and studying for my post-graduation.
I moved to the UK in 1997 in December. We landed in Scotland and it was full of freezing snow, the first time in my life I had ever seen it! The non-stop 24-journey with a two-and-a-half-year-old daughter and three-month-old son all alone with no sleep had tested me to the core, but it was a character-building challenge.
I achieved my MRCP degree within three years since of arriving in the UK. To be honest, I don’t know how on earth I managed. But I worked very hard and just kept facing the challenges. I knew I had to follow my dream to. I have had to make lots of sacrifices over the years to keep following my heart and to be there for my cancer patients. I missed out on a lot of time with my family.
Over the last three years and at the age of 45 I have become the first woman Clinical Director for Haematology, Oncology and Medical Physics. We also cover Lymphodema, Palliative Care and Immunology. There have been so many challenges, one of which is to make the UHNM cancer centre a Cancer Centre of Excellence. I am so passionate about this and I feel this is the purpose of my life and the ultimate test for me choosing this career. I really want to bring an improved quality of life to every cancer patient being treated at UHNM.
- How does what you do make a difference to other people?
After seven years of my perseverance I have been able to launch the SABR (Stereotactic Ablative Radiotherapy) service. This was a change in practice and an essential new service which improves the survival rate of cancer patients.
I communicate, share my feelings and listen to others and their feelings in a friendly way and I feel this makes so much difference to other people. People say my smiling face helps them to relax and this helps me to build trust and a strong rapport with my patients. I try to be open and honest with my patients and I feel that by being down-to-earth when I communicate, not bossy and serious. I am friendly and casual and I think my way of talking makes people forget their problems and almost have fun. I never give up unless otherwise the situation absolutely warrants I and that makes a big difference in other people’s lives.
Music is another of my passions and I have had a second chance at becoming a musician recently by recording an album of me playing the Veena, an Indian string instrument. My aim is for cancer patients to hear the relaxing music whilst having chemotherapy and radiotherapy and I created an album, which was released on You Tube. This was a hit and we aim to release more albums shortly.
- What would you say to other women aspiring to be in a similar field of healthcare and who may have doubts about their ability to achieve their goals?
You can do it whatever you want, don’t give up on your dreams. Follow your heart and your passion will help you to overcome any challenges you may face. Be kind, be honest and be selfless.
The sky is the limit!