What a privilege to be part of the 69 batch

By Dr. Damian Fernando

The Peradeniya Medical School celebrated 50 years of its inauguration, the celebrations being held from January 2 to 7 at the Medical Faculty in Peradeniya and also in Kandy. The first batch of medical students entered the Peradeniya Medical Faculty in January 1962.

Scientific sessions in the form of lectures delivered by some eminent doctors produced by the Peradeniya Medical Faculty over the last 50 years were held in the mornings. They came from all over the world.

The participants were able to share their knowledge and learn the latest research in various branches of medicine. This was also of immense benefit to the undergraduate medical students. There was also an exhibition of fine arts, held at the medical library. This showed the world that some doctors from Peradeniya are creative and multi-talented. Dr. Gamini Buthpitiya, ‘Butha’ proved that he is not only a fine surgeon but also a capable organiser, aided by an efficient team. The main proceedings concluded with a sumptuous dinner at the Mahaveli Reach Hotel attended by over 500 participants.

On the 8th morning the different batches had their own get-togethers, so I joined my batchmates, entrants from the 1969 batch, some of whom I met after more than 35 years and we headed towards Amaya Lake hotel in Dambulla by a luxury coach.

On my way I contemplated on how fortunate I was to be a part of this gathering of world renowned intellectuals in the field of medicine. I entered the Medical Faculty in 1969, in the 8th batch at Peradeniya. Out of 40,000 students who sat the A-levels in bio sciences, the top 225 were selected to do medicine. 150 went to the Colombo Medical School and 75 to Peradeniya.

I did Physics, Chemistry, Botany and Zoology and Organic Chemistry and had to pass the theory part to be called for the practicals. Practicals were held at the Science Faculties at Colombo and Peradeniya Universities. Practicals were tough and many students failed. I still remember at the Zoology practical I was given a shark (Kiri Mora) to dissect and display its afferent nervous system.

Those who passed all four subjects after the practicals were given a practical exam in Organic Chemistry. Students had to pass the Organic Chemistry to be selected for Medicine.

To do medicine students had to pass all five subjects and selection was purely on merit. In 1969 there was no district quota system, and there was no Z score. No one could manipulate the A-level results.
Even though I wanted to be in Colombo because I thought that Colombo was more of a lively city, my father thought otherwise. Having seen two of my sisters complete their studies at the Peradeniya Arts Faculty, he was very keen that I should go to Peradeniya.

He thought the climate, the scenic beauty, the sports grounds, the magnificent gymnasium and the halls of residences during that time was more conducive to the tough five years of studies ahead of me. Today I realize how correct he was.

My dad was a teacher and we lived in a rented house. The rent was just 30 rupees a month. There were nine children in our family - three boys and six girls. We did not have running water or electricity. My dad was not interested in building a house or buying a car. Instead he invested in his nine children and gave them the best possible education.

At our batch (1969) re-union, there were doctors from all over the world -- the United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, United Kingdom and from many other countries, from all specialities.
Among them were:

Shanthi Baduge now Shanthi Mendis, internationally recognised health professional and head of Non-communicable diseases at WHO Geneva; Gamini Buthpitiya, an eminent surgeon and Dean of the Faculty of Medicine at Peradeniya; Ananda Wijekoon, Head of the Department of Paediatrics and Professor of Paediatrics at Peradeniya; O.S.G. Silva, a brilliant Consultant Anaesthetist working in Oman; A. K. Panikkar, a well known Consultant Anaesthetist working in the U. S. A.; Sarath Wattegama, a Consultant Oncologist in Kandy; Chandra Wysundera now Chandra Abeysekera, a Professor of Paediatrics at the Peradeniya Medical Faculty; D. R. Abeysinghe, a top psychiatrist based in Kandy; Nihal Kulatilaka, a renowned cardio-thoracic surgeon at Cardiff, Wales; H.S.K. Wimalaratna, a Consultant Neurologist and Senior Lecturer in Neurology at the Oxford University; T. Niyadurupola, a Consultant Eye Surgeon at Worthing hospital UK; Ilango Lena, a Consultant Anaesthesiologist based in Canada; P. Sivaji, a Consultant Physician working in Canada; C. Krishnalingam, a Consultant Psychiatrist in Canada; Somil Wijendra, a surgeon and Family Physician working in the UK; R. Jeyarajah a family physician working in the UK; M. Paraajothy and V. Paramjothy, the brilliant sisters from my batch who are Consultant Physicians in Australia; N.D. Kasturiarachi, a senior lecturer in the Department of Preventive Medicine in the Faculty of Medicine, Peradeniya; S.Sivanesan, a Consultant in Emergency Medicine in the U. S. A.; A. Sivaganesanathan, a Consultant Anaesthetist from Ontario Canada; Jayakumari Ponnambalam, a Consultant Anaesthetist working in the UK; S. Suriyakumaran, a Consultant in Rehabilitation Medicine in the UK; V. Vijayaratnum, a Consultant Paediatrician in Ontario Canada; S. Visvalingam, a Consultant Anaesthetist working in the UK; Kalyani Wickremarachi, a Consultant Obstetrician and Gynaecologist working in Kegalle, Sri Lanka; M. Kathiragamanathan, a Consultant Surgeon based in Canada; S. Gunaratnum and S. Ratnarajah, Consultant Obstetricians and Gynaecologists working in the UK and Canada respectively; S. Vipulandran, a Consultant Paediatrician based in Wales; Jayantha Wijerathne MRCP and one of the best medical teachers who has helped many to get through their post graduate exams in the UK....... the list is endless. There are so many, and from the 1969 batch, more than 50 of the 75 students are Consultants practising either in Sri Lanka or abroad.

I have only mentioned some of the top consultants from my batch, but since 1962 the Peradeniya Medical School has produced some outstanding doctors who work as consultants, family practitioners, lecturers etc. in Sri Lanka and abroad. This is a tribute to this great institution and its magnificent teachers.

What struck me most was that in spite of the very high positions held by my friends, none of them had lost their individuality, they were so unassuming and simple, and even the top cardio thoracic surgeon would still address me as “Machang”. Heading home I said a quiet prayer of thanksgiving to my mum and dad, who are now in heaven, and my sister Callista who spent almost all of her small salary on me, to fund my university education at Peradeniya as they were responsible for giving me this one in a million opportunity to be part of this group.

(The writer is a Consultant Anaesthetist at Leighton Hospital, Crewe, Cheshire.UK).

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