Prof. Deepal Weerasekera appointed Actg. VC of SAITM

‘Good Private medical education is a necessity’

"In Sri Lanka, for some unknown reason, thus far, good private medical education has yet to be been established … I believe its time we should be moving with the developing world, and I think that for our students too, good quality private medical education is a necessity. The primary aim of this institution, SAITM, is to provide precisely that. And in such a context, I am very happy to provide the academic leadership for such an institution".

So said Profesor Deepal Weerasekera, the recently appointed Actg. Vice Chancellorof the South Asian Institute of Technology & Medicine (SAITM), in Malabe. Prof Weerasekera who holds the Chair of Obstetrics and Gynaecology is also the Medical Director of the Dr. Neville Fernando Teaching Hospital (NFTH).

Weerasekera was educated at Ananda College, thereafter at the Colombo University and following his Post - Graduate studies, worked in UK universities during his training period, and obtained his membership of the Royal College of Obstetrics and Gynecologists (UK) and Fellowship of the Royal College of Surgeons (Edinburgh).

Commenting on the current imbroglio where the SLMC has refused to register SAITM MBBS graduates for internship, he says "I really don’t know why SLMC has taken this stance but apparently the main cause could be the allegation of inadequate clinical training. But I think this matter has been purely assessed by looking at the in-ward patient numbers of the Neville Fernando Teaching Hospital, comparing the NFTH numbers to the numbers of patients in a government hospital. But, in my opinion, the quality of medical education, cannot be purely be assessed by a mere numerical counting of the numbers of patients in a hospital. There is in fact, a lot more to the quality of education".

"We have such a great array of internationally recognised academic professors heading all clinical departments, with years of experience in medical education and work in state universities, state medical faculties in Sri Lanka as well as medical faculties in other countries. And it is their considered opinion that the clinical exposure that we provide at SAITM is quite adequate. In fact, there are so many other ways, as we have oft repeated, where the clinical training for a student, can be enhanced via so many modern methods, not solely going according to patient numbers." he emphasised.

Referring to the allegations that SAITM MBBS students do not possess the requisite qualifications, Professor Weerasekera stated " various allegations are made based on the assumption that one’s ‘A’ Level grading will determine your success in your career, which is a proven wrong assumption. The Advanced Level is just a theory examination. A person can cram and get down books and get good marks at the exam. And that sure is no guarantee that one is going to be a top professional one day. And the two are not really related. As far as our students are concerned, they have done quite well in the London ‘A’ Levels or local ‘A’ Levels and they all have obtained the requisite common mark, as stipulated by the University Grants Commission and Ministry of Higher Education, so that there is no question on that issue.

They have also performed very well at extra-curricular activities at school level, their communication skills are at a very high level, with good personalities, very conversant in English, Sinhala & Tamil languages. I don’t see any deficiencies in these students becoming very good doctors in this country".

Reminiscing about some of the challenges encountered in his career, the professor recalled " On my return from my stay in the UK, I served in Badulla and Anuradhapura hospitals. In fact when I was in Anuradhapura hospital, it was at the height of Eelam War 2. There were no more than two or three properly qualified Obstetricians and Gynecologists, so we were handling close-upon about 20,000 deliveries per year in this hospital. I worked there for almost for five years as the Consultant Obstetrician and Gynecologist, with bombs and grenade attacks frequently occurring around the hospital.

"Earlier, when I saw the vacancy at the Anuradhapura hospital, I promptly went there. I knew that it was a neglected hospital, and the population overlooked. I knew that so many mothers were dying because of child-birth complications. Whatever attention that was focused in that hospital was on the surgery side, because all the wounded soldiers were evacuated here. But at the same time, the maternity care services were rather neglected. So I believed it was a good challenge to go there. Although soldiers were being given their due attention, no one thought of the plight of dying pregnant mothers.

"Because of transport delays, mothers being in obstructed labour, coming to the hospital at a very late stage, with ruptured uteruses. No one heeded the problems of that segment of the population. We conducted out -reach clinics in difficult areas such as Mahawewa, Tantirimalle, Padaviya, when these villages were almost inaccessible I am indeed happy that I was able provide that type of dedicated service to my country, for five years-from 1992-1996" .

On his current association with SAITM Malabe, Professor Weerasekera pointed out

"I saw the need in this country, for good private medical education, and I knew this institution was coming up and its was facing so many obstacles, which I thought was very unfair by the institution and then I was invited to take part in its development. I took up the challenge, and for the last three to three and a half years have been working intensely to develop this institution.

"Right from the start of the opening of this beautiful Hospital (NFTH) , and in fact was working at the hospital for almost one year before the opening, when its was just a concrete structure, contributing to infrastructure development, setting up the operating theatres, and have been involved in all stages and have been directly contributing to establishing new units . I have no hesitation today in saying that this is is one of the best model university hospitals, which can indeed be a model university hospital to any country".

Professor Weerasekera likes playing tennis, has a passion for golf and has also captained the professional teams of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.



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