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Professor Sankar Sinha

Professor Sankar Sinha is currently Professor of Surgery at the University of Tasmania. Prior to retiring from full-time practice in 2006, he had an interesting and varied career as a surgeon working in a number of countries including India, Zambia, Papua new Guinea, UK and Australia. He has a keen interest in medical education and research and received the Medal of the Order of Australia for his outstanding contributions to medical education and wound care in 2005.

Please tell us about your background and current role
I went straight from school to study a BSc at the University of Calcutta, India. Following this, inspired by my uncle who was a Doctor, I decided to study Medicine and I graduated with MBBS(Hons) from the University of Calcutta in 1966. I completed my internship and worked as a House Officer from 1966 to 1971. I also graduated with MS (General Surgery) at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) in 1971 and MNAMS (General Surgery) at the National Academy of Medical Sciences, India in 1972.

From 1972 to 1978, I worked as a Surgical Registrar at a number of hospitals:
All India Institute of Medical Sciences (India)
North Bengal University Medical College (India)
Southmead Hospital(Bristol, UK)
Hammersmith Hospital (London, UK)
Ndola Central Hospital (Zambia)

After obtaining my fellowship in Surgery (FRCS) in 1979, I worked as Consultant Surgeon at the National Medical College Hospital, India. In 1982 I obtained my fellowship from the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons (FRACS) and in 1985 from the American College of Surgeons (FACS).

Following this, I moved to Papua New Guinea where I worked as a Consultant Surgeon and Lecturer (later Associate Professor) at the Port Moresby General Hospital and the University of Papua New Guinea. From 1989 to 1990 I was appointed Professor and Head of Surgery at the above institutions.

From 1991 to 2006, I worked as a Staff Specialist in General Surgery at the Royal Hobart Hospital. During this time, I was also involved with teaching at the University of Tasmania, initially as a Senior Lecturer, then later as Associate Professor.

Teaching and research is my main focus now and I am Professor of Surgery at the University of Tasmania. I also travel to rural areas from time to time to undertake short terms working in General Surgery.

How did you go about deciding on surgery?
My first experience after graduation was working in a small charitable hospital, where I met Dr P.N. Chatterji who inspired me in surgery (as well as my Gold Medal in Surgery at University was another factor).

What do you enjoy most about surgery?
As a surgeon the results of your management is very dramatic and visible – a very satisfying experience (when things go well!).

Many students don’t know what know what is involved with your specialty in terms of day to day work? Can you tell us what you do in a normal day? How much is spent with patients/procedures/paperwork?
Now that I have stopped working as a full-time general surgeon, my day to day work has changed. But as a general surgeon, I used to start my day around 8 am –first job was to check my mails (since the email was in vogue), then either to go for the ward round or to the operating theatre. If I was on call the night before, I would go to see the patients in the private hospitals before I came to the RHH. Once my morning clinical work is over, I would then do administrative work, prepare my teaching materials or take tutorials for students, or do my outpatient clinic depending on the day of the week.

What are the some of the challenges associated with your specialty – how do you go about overcoming them?
The important challenge is always trying to keep my surgical skills updated (for example when laparoscopic surgery was started, I went for the workshop and very quickly started doing it). The other challenge is to keep abreast of current progress in surgery by daily reading of the main surgical journals.

Please tell us about your research interests? What do you enjoy about research?
I always performed research (very little though) of immediate clinical relevance and I wanted to stimulate curiosity and research interests to my students and trainee registrars. My present research interests are on wound management and medical education.

What are your interests outside of medicine? Do you get time to pursue these activities?
Gardening and reading outside medical literature – for which I wish I could have more time – even now.

Please tell us about your teaching involvement?
I have always enjoyed teaching and I would continue to do so as long my health-physical and mental permit. It is most satisfying to see my former students went on to become consultants of great repute and distinction. I feel very relaxed and comfortable when I have the opportunity to be treated as a patient by one of my former students- it is a privilege and pleasure and the satisfaction cannot be measured in any form.

Do you have any advice for budding medical students / JMOs wanting to specialise in this area?
Before embarking on surgical training, you must ask yourself how passionate you are to take the surgical career path as your choice. You must love and enjoy this speciality, otherwise you will be only a mediocre surgeon.