Dignified, with intelligent eyes beaming through her glasses, Dr. Prativa Pandey is a Nepali doctor who trained Americans in Internal Medicine at Harvard University. She loves dal-bhat and poetry, and is disappointed that she can no longer trek in Nepal like she did before.
Dr. Pandey is the Medical Director of CIWEC Clinic Travel Medicine Center in Kathmandu and she is incidentally the first and only Nepali doctor to work there full time (since 1993) and head the western medical center (since 1998). She proved herself a competent professional, meeting the high standards of work maintained at CIWEC, at par with the rest of the international team of doctors. With an array of experiences in travel medicine and in high altitude medicine, she attributes her success to the work ethic and discipline she has maintained throughout her career.
An attending physician in Boston, U.S.A, with a well-established practice, she was also a clinical instructor in Medicine at Harvard University. But Dr. Prativa opted to return to her home country. The reason, she says, is because her roots never left her. “Although I had an excellent practice in the USA, my husband and I always wanted to come back to Nepal one day. I missed my family, my culture and my country.”
Dr. Prativa was born in 1953 to a family of writers and poets. Her grandfather, the venerated poet, late Kavi Lekhnath Paudel exposed her to the world of Nepali literature and inspired her to write poetry. With a touch of nostalgia, she remembers, “In my childhood days, I had the opportunity to be inspired by the Nepali literate community through my grandfather. The experience stimulated me so much that when I fought with my sister and we didn’t talk to each other, we used to communicate by writing poetry.” With great reverence for her family, she says that she has been inspired by many of her family members, especially her sisters, of whom, one is a social activist. “I feel greatly for the development and economic problems of women in Nepal. Had I not been a doctor, I would’ve probably been a women’s rights activist.”
Some fifty years back, women in Nepali society were thought better off married than educated. But Dr. Pandey’s mother, then the editor of a Nepali magazine ‘Prativa’, provided constant support and continually encouraged her to carry on with her education. Her father was also equally supportive. This, she says, was one of the most important factors that led to her accomplishments in later life. “Contrary to the social trends then, I grew up in an environment where education was given priority. I went to Kanti Ishwori Rajya Laxmi High School, a local school in Kathmandu and sat on straw mats in class.” Nothing deterred her from excelling in studies and obtaining a high-level education. She completed her S.L.C at the tender age of thirteen, and later got the chance to study medicine in India, a rare opportunity for a Nepali woman, at the time.
Dr. Prativa married Ashok Raj Pandey in 1975, who also graduated in Business Management from Harvard Business School. He was equally educated and encouraging. With his undying support and her dedication to the field of medicine, she was able to complete her residency in Internal Medicine in Boston, Massachusetts and later practiced as a medical doctor. Pointing out to the positives of having the opportunity to work in a western setting, she notes, “In the west, the ethic and culture of working is very strong. There is excellent opportunity to learn and train oneself. You are given the responsibility as well as the authority to make decisions about patients. Hence, it pushes you to always perform better. The education in the west teaches you to analyze matters and think for yourself, rather than to accumulate bookish knowledge. This helped me in my personal as well as professional growth.”
Passionate about traveling, Dr. Prativa chose to volunteer at Pheriche at 4240 metres near the Everest base camp for three months for the Himalayan Rescue Association. The first Nepali woman to undertake such a challenging operation, she saw it more as a challenge than a risk. It gave her an opportunity to learn about altitude sickness as it happened in the field. She thoroughly enjoyed her work experience and also got to learn about Sherpa life and culture.
Spilling the secret of her success, Dr. Prativa says, “Discipline and recognizing opportunities is the key”, which undoubtedly has elevated her to higher and respected positions. Recently she was elected the President of International Society of Travel Medicine (ISTM), an international society with over 1,800 members. Her involvement and contribution in research at CIWEC on various travel diseases like diarrhea and altitude sickness, trekking related deaths and accidents, etc. has gained Nepal the reputation of being the most studied travel destination in the world. With all her hands-on experiences, today she also serves as the site director for the GeoSentinel project, an international cooperative project to monitor emerging diseases by studying travel-related illnesses.
When asked what keeps her going everyday to reach new heights, she says, “It’s the mere desire to help people. At every opportunity I get, I assist people to the best of my ability.” And commenting on how CIWEC has earned a reputation as a health care giver of international standards, Dr. Prativa says, ”We try to provide excellent service and take care of the problem as best we can. If we cannot control or treat them here, we refer patients to other centers, even outside Nepal. We give special attention to individual patients to take care of their problem keeping in mind what is the best available option for that problem that exists in this world.”
However, she expresses her disappointment on seeing the attitude of some of the medical personnel in the hospitals here. “Some doctors and even nurses here are indifferent towards the psychological needs of the patients. You have to put yourself in the patients’ shoes and understand them as individuals. Being a doctor, it is equally important to be compassionate towards patients while you treat them medically,” she emphasizes.
A mother of two (Pragati and Gaurub), Dr. Pandey juggles her time between family and work through her busy schedule. Her daughter Dr. Pragati Pandey, now follows in her mother’s footsteps and is preparing for further education in Medicine, while Gaurub used to be a member of the popular Nepali jazz band “Candenza”. “I always encourage my children to follow their heart and be happy with what they do. But education has been my emphasis for both of our children. My daughter is a medical doctor and my son studies music.”
Apart from regular work, Dr. Pandey reads books zealously, and pursues an adventurous life by going trekking. “I have hiked up most of the hills around Kathmandu. I used to trek regularly when there was security in the country. These outings used to give me great pleasure and opportunity to see beautiful places in Nepal. On weekends, I like eating out, especially Indian cuisine and visiting with my family and relatives. To relax, I still hike to Swoyambhu as often as I can, and that is so refreshing.”
Under the leadership of Dr. Prativa Pandey, CIWEC will be expanding its services in a new building, which is still under construction. “One of the problems Nepal faces is the lack of proper research and laboratory facilities, which makes accurate diagnosis difficult. Hence, in the future, I would like to introduce and run a lab facility with the latest and most sophisticated equipments that would enhance the standards of medical services in Nepal.”
A charismatic person, a compassionate doctor, Dr. Prativa Pandey is energetic and successful. She casually exclaims that she is not ambitious. “All I did was grab the opportunity presented to me. Therefore, it is very important to be patient and at the same time see the opportunities that lie ahead of you, and make the best of it.”
Fig 1: Dhruba Bhakta Mathema with his first grandson and family While reading the recently published Life and...