Balancing academics and leadership – Dr. Tharindi Padmaperuma | RI Alumni

“To my teachers, I am extremely grateful. I firmly believe that my presence here today and the grounding that I have received were both determined by the commitment of the teachers I had at RI. Although an international school, at RI we never missed on that Sri Lankan touch and sensitivity.”

Dr. Tharindi Padmaperuma, an outstanding alumna of Royal Institute International School, who currently serves as a General Practitioner in Australia, unfolds her memories and views on balancing academics and leadership during a recent interview RI had with her.

  1. Sri Lanka, India, Australia. How do these three different lands connect to you?

Well, Sri Lanka is home. I’ve been living here most of my life. I’ve studied at RI and after my A-Levels, I went to India to pursue my medical degree; I was there for around six years and then, returned to Sri Lanka. After my internship, started work here; later found work in Australia. So, I moved in there and now have my general registration there; I’m planning to practice shortly.

2. How many years of schooling have you completed at Royal Institute?

I studied at Royal Institute, Nugegoda branch for 10 years from Grade 3 to 12.

3. You have been a constant award winner at the school’s annual Prize Days. How did you make sure that you win prizes every year?

Well, I remember the RI Nugegoda branch organizing Prize-Days when I was in Grade 5. The first time, I did not have a goal as such, but was awarded for my performance, but from that day onwards, I had the motivation – I wanted to receive more prizes the next year. Prize-Day itself is a motivating factor. In addition, the teachers at RI make you want to do better each time – they motivate you and appreciate your good work. That keeps the ball rolling. You are inclined to do better the next year. In my opinion, it’s a mix of your commitment and the support and encouragement you receive from your teachers.    

4. Your awards were not limited to academic achievements. You were awarded the Best Girl Guide title. How has guiding helped you lately as a young lady?

I believe guiding is very important in adapting to different situations, and it has helped me adapt to many different situations in Sri Lanka, India, and Australia; and they are very different from one another. It has made me a more compassionate individual. It has developed in me, the basic life skills and social responsibility – you always want to do better and also make sure that the others do well too. Guiding has given me all of that.

5. You had multiple skills: singing, dancing, painting and acting; you were a chorister of the RI choir. How did you find the time to engage in all these spheres of activity?

I remember the times when I stayed in school till 4 pm and then go home. It was because school had many events organized and ensured that every child was given the opportunity to participate. We had a range of activities across all five days and we could engage in multiple activities simultaneously. Also, I should say that many kids these days don’t have quality time as they spend many hours on tuition, whereas at RI, thanks to my teachers, I didn’t go for extra tuition till my A-Levels. Upto Grade 10, I was free after school. I didn’t have anything else to do, and I happily took part in all extra-curricular activities that I could, went home, rested, and studied. A child has ample time every day to spend on recreation, if she doesn’t waste it on tuition.  It is noteworthy; I had all the time because I didn’t go for extra lessons.      

6. If you were invited to compere at any event, be it official or social, in the present day, would you still do it with the same level of confidence you displayed when you did it back in school?

Well, though I haven’t done it in a long time now, I would say ‘Yes’. With some practice, hopefully- yes.

7. Based on your high performance, you were awarded a scholarship in grade 8. Today, do you think that you have reaped the maximum benefit out of it?

I was awarded the scholarship from Grade 8 to 12, based on academic performance. Further to its monetary value, it makes you believe that you can do it: you were appreciated for your hard work – it gives you that motivation and ultimately it is I who reap the benefit; it is also I who move forward in the career pathway. Certainly, the scholarship helped me in numerous ways to get to where I am today.

8. ‘The Best All Rounder’ – What does this mean?

Every year, at the RI annual prize-giving, they award one student from each branch for handling both academics and extra-curricular activities very well throughout the year. I was so fortunate to have been awarded this in 2005, my final year in school. It has made me humbly proud, and I am truly happy of the achievement. 

9. On producing 3 A grades at Cambridge ALs, Cambridge International presented you the High Achiever’s Award. How committed were you as a student?  

Academics was always my number one. Amidst all other involvements, I’ve always given priority to my academics. It is triggered by discipline and motivation and prioritizing means you are 80% through. I sometimes feel that luck also matters. So, as you see, to me number one has always been academics. 

10. Alongside all your academic brilliance and numerous skills displayed in many spheres of extra activity, you were appointed as the Head Prefect of the school. How did this role help you develop your inter-personal and leadership skills?

Before I was elected Head Prefect, I started as a Junior Stewardess; I was in Grade 5 then. Overtime, I was appointed Junior Prefect, Prefect and then Senior Head-Prefect. It all happened gradually, and during this journey, teachers at RI ensured that leadership qualities were infused and instilled in us. You are given little tasks like keeping order in class in your teacher’s absence, etc. It all started small, but immensely helped in my leadership skills development. Being a prefect means you are the link between the student body and staff. You need to be able to convey messages from one end to the other. And I know, being a prefect has definitely fortified me with numerous leadership and inter-personal skills.     

11. On obtaining 3 As at Cambridge International ALs, you moved to Kasturba Medical College in Manipal, India to pursue higher studies in medicine. We’d like to hear about your life there.

I was there for nearly six years. This was indeed a life-altering period. We were young and living away from home – in a country with so many different cultures infused together. In the campus, you had people from all over India and from all over the world. It made me realize how tiny I was as a person and how extensive the world was. It makes you humble and at the same time, more patriotic as you are away from home. You also realize the value of being at home in your own country. It improves your communication skills as you are in a land where different languages are spoken and different cultures exist. That alone was education enough. India gave me higher education, to which I am forever grateful; it has given me wonderful friends. One of the best times of my life was in Manipal.   

12. On completing your MBBS, how many countries can you practice in, currently?

When you do your degree in Manipal, India, they expect you to do a one-year internship there. On completion of that, they award you the degree with permanent registration to practice in India. I obtained it and returned to Sri Lanka; then I did my ERPM exams; I did my internship in a Sri Lankan hospital. Next, I received my permanent registration to work in Sri Lanka. Once more in Australia, I took a few more exams and received my permanent registration there. 

13. How do you think you could serve the human race as a General Practitioner, especially in a situation like the prevailing one?

I believe there are two main advantages out of a multitude of those in being a General Practitioner. First, being a GP, you refer a patient to a hospital or a higher center only when you know that it is absolutely necessary; you reduce the burden on hospitals. Due to COVID, so many hospitals and emergency rooms are overwhelmed with work. So, as a General Practitioner, if you can manage basic issues outside hospital and refer a patient to the hospital only when they absolutely need that secondary care, then you are playing a vital role in preventing the health sector drain and keeping health care workers from being overloaded.  The second is from the end of the patient: this is a novel pandemic and not many people living today have been through a pandemic. You are socially isolated, away from your loved ones, work and colleagues; you are troubled by the uncertainties pertaining to this disease. Evidently, these contribute to numerous factors that affect a person’s mental health. As a General Practitioner, you are in the most ideal spot to counsel patients and look after them – to make sure that they are coping well with this new situation. We do whatever we can to ensure stability and wellness in people’s mental status. These two I believe, are key things we can do as General Practitioners at this hour of need.

14. What memories do you recall of your alma mater and your days there?

Well, there are so many… Out of all, I vividly recall Bhakti Gee, Christmas Carols, Prize-Days, talent shows and all the work and practice that went into those. Not only those specific days, but all the weeks and months of practice, all the fun we had with our friends, all the after-school times – it was wonderful!

15. Any special message to teachers and students at RI?

To my teachers, I am extremely grateful. I firmly believe that my presence here today and the grounding that I have received were both determined by the commitment of the teachers I had at RI. Although an international school, at RI we never missed on that Sri Lankan touch and sensitivity. Our teachers made us very culturally sound and well grounded. For that, I am so grateful. We can survive anywhere on Earth because of that grounding. It is highly valued.

And for the students who are there at school, this is the most fantastic period of your life and I think you should enjoy it. B a child for as long as you could; adulthood is certain to come, whether you want it or not. Therefore, you should enjoy those years at school. You should definitely study well as it is the key factor which determines the rest of your life and your career. Education should always be number one as that is one of the key purposes of school education. Furthermore, it is also the time when you make lifelong friendships and develop a signature personality. You should cherish your days in school and enjoy, as it is never going to come back.