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The World is my Oyster - Sneha Ananthakrishnan

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Published by admin, 2021-05-08 06:24:05

Sneha Ananthakrishnan

The World is my Oyster - Sneha Ananthakrishnan

THE WORLD
IS MY

OYSTER

Sneha
Ananthakrishnan

8th May, 2021

My life mantra is that there is always
more than one way to look at a problem

- SNEHA ANANTHAKRISHANAN

At the age of 10, fascinated by fancy infrastructure and white coats at MediCiti Hospital in
Hyderabad, I decided I wanted to be a cardiologist when I grew up. My parents were happy as
I was choosing a profession that qualified for the top three in the list of Indian parents’
preferred professional goals. Like a sincere student, I pursued the idea and took the required
competitive exams to get into MBBS. Unfortunately it did not work out as planned. At this
point I did not have a plan B, so while contemplating on other possible medical programs, a
family friend introduced me to optometry. When I was reading about the profession, I realised
I had seen optometrists at LVPEI during my visits as a patient. My fascination for fancy
infrastructure and white coats returned and I was sold. I secured an admission in Bausch and
Lomb School of Optometry (BLSO).

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8th May, 2021

It may sound clichéd but some of my best days were at BLSO. I made friends who are very
close to my heart, my love for healthcare was established here and this is also the place I gained
professional knowledge, skills, and self-confidence. During my third and fourth years at BLSO,
I had the opportunity to take part in several vision screening camps and working with the
community in these camps felt far more enticing than working with individual patients in a
clinic. There was a sense of satisfaction that I was contributing to the well-being of a much
larger group at a given point in time. During my internship at LV Prasad Eye Institute
(LVPEI), I decided I would pursue a career in either community eye care or contact lenses.

However, at the end of my final year, when I was all set to complete my research project in
community eye care, I was more inclined to pursue a career in community health. I thoroughly
enjoyed interacting with people from different walks of life during the data collection process.
So, while working at Sankara Netralaya, I started exploring options in community eye care.
After pondering over my interests, choices, and consulting with a senior from BLSO, I decided
to pursue Master of Public Health (MPH) from SRM University, Tamil Nadu.

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8th May, 2021

Studying in a full-fledged university like SRM was an interesting experience. As a part of the
program, I had to do a research project for my summer internship and I chose to work on
assessing the health seeking behaviour in the rag pickers’ community working in a dump yard
in Chennai. It was a unique experience in every sense.

Image credit : Google images

I would interact with people standing on huge piles of garbage which at times felt like a live
chemistry lab with sudden episodes of fire and smoke everywhere. What was even more
fascinating was that few of the rag pickers working there would make up to thirty thousand
rupees a week. There were moments when I considered a change of profession. Five hours of
work a day, flexible working hours, you are your own boss, unlimited resources – it felt like a
dream job. Jokes apart, filled with such unique experiences, interesting field trips and
educative internships, I successfully completed my degree and took up a job as a research
assistant with a qualitative researcher at IIT, Hyderabad.

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8th May, 2021

As part of my job, I conducted in-depth interviews of patients with hallucinations who
visited Asha Hospital at Hyderabad. The stories these patients shared were so incredible that
it seemed almost impossible that the human brain can conjure such wonderful and fertile
imaginations. As much as I was jealous of their captivating story telling abilities, I was also
thankful for my sanity and balanced mental health. While I was having my dose of self-
realisation working with these patients during weekends, I spent my weekdays working at
the Watershed Support Services and Activities Network (WASSAN) as a Program Officer
and experienced the warmth that people from rural parts of India had to offer.

WASSAN is an organization that works predominantly with rural communities at grassroot
levels to implement programs that improves livelihood opportunities and provide better quality
of life in general. I joined WASSAN to gain the experience of working in close quarters with
the community. Working here was challenging because I had to read about watersheds, ground
water management, agriculture, water sanitation, hygiene etc. I had to write reports about
programs, document case studies, conduct evaluations and impact assessments and all of this
required me to have basic knowledge about each of these topics. Despite the challenges, I still
have no complaints as this gave me an opportunity to visit some of the most beautiful villages
across India, which I would not have explored otherwise. I have vivid memories of walking
through lush green fields of Srikakulam, sharing a delicious meal of homegrown raagi and
dancing around bonfire with a tribal community in Araku, travelling in an almost dilapidated
sleeper bus in Chathisgarh and listening to Punjabi songs while being driven through the
narrow mountain paths in Jammu.

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8th May, 2021

My delightful journey at WASSAN came to an end when I joined India Vision Institute (IVI)
as a Program Officer – a job where I finally used both my health care degrees to promote
eyecare. At IVI, I was involved in organizing capacity building programs (workshops,
internships, optometry schools assessment etc.) for eye care professionals and students.

Such programs encourage
optometrists to continuously
evaluate and upgrade their skills. My
work profile at IVI gave me a lot of
self-satisfaction because I was
contributing to the community that
started my journey into healthcare
and made me the person that I am
today. If WASSAN took me through
the serene roads of rural India, IVI
gave me the opportunity to
experience the urban chaos across
several states in India.

I have been often asked why I opted out of optometry to pursue public health. A simple answer
to this is that optometry and public health are not mutually exclusive and I just chose to pursue
a certain direction in optometry with broader prospects. When I decided to join MPH, my
intention was to understand my opportunities to work with the general population and to
explore different places through work. It was only midway into the program, I realised there
was much more to health than just diagnosing diseases and treating them. Health of an
individual is influenced by several social factors such as gender, race, ethnicity, socio-economic
status, social and family hierarchy etc. So, when I decided I wanted to have a broader
understanding, it was this concept that I was looking for. Eye care is no different. Several such
factors can influence an individual’s decision to get something as basic as an annual eye exam. I
was and I still am curious to understand these factors. Rather than having a myopic view about
such issues, I prefer to have a bird’s eye view.

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8th May, 2021

The beauty of public health is that the foundation remains the same, it is the subject matter
which changes and that is the reason I was able to explore multiple dimensions in my career. I
also prefer to have a variety of experiences and public health offers that to me. I can
comfortably navigate through different areas within the realms of public health as and when
an opportunity presents itself.

My career so far has been based entirely on public health management (which was also the
specialisation I chose in MPH). It deals with designing and implementing public health
initiatives, evaluating the initiatives, capacity building, advocacy etc. I have had a career that
has practically kept me on my toes and I prefer to continue that streak going forward. I am
exploring my options in further education or work opportunities that would open up new
avenues in public health management. Another field that I am hoping to explore is behavioural
health. I like to understand the behavioural patterns of a population towards their health, so
that I can learn to design and implement public health interventions based on such factors. My
mantra in life is that there is always more than one way to look at a problem and I would like to
practice that in my professional life too.

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