Celebrating 50 years of graduation as medical doctors
Dr Suriyakanthie Amarasekera (Island)
On the 4th of June 1962 One Hundred and Fifty Eight young men and women, who had secured admission to the University of Ceylon, to pursue a career in Medicine, entered the portals of that great institute of learning – The Faculty of Medicine, Colombo. We had gained entry purely on merit on the performance at the GCE Advanced Level Examination. There were students from across the island from Chilaw to Batticaloa, from Pont Pedro, Chunnakam, Tellipalai to Galle, from Pannipitiya to Matale.
We had to face a Viva Voce Examination conducted by the Faculty in Colombo. Students were allocated to Medicine, Dental Surgery or Veterinary Science depending on the overall performance. I remember being questioned on subjects ranging from space travel to Beri Beri!
Of the many distinguished teachers we had, only Prof Priyani Soysa and Prof. Carlo Fonseka are still with us. We were the first batch that Prof. Carlo Fonseka taught on his return to Sri Lanka after obtaining his doctorate.
It is noteworthy that our batch was multi-talented. There were several outstanding Sportsman. Ace Spin Bowler Thomian Lareef Idroos and Benedictine Cyril Ernest, played for the National Cricket Team. Royalists Harsha Samarajiva and Kiththa Wimalaratne were well known school boy cricketers. They were all members of the University of Ceylon cricket team that won the P Saravanmuttu Trophy in 1962-1963 V Kunasingham played in the University Hockey team and represented Sri Lanka in Hockey as Goal Keeper. Royalist J.C Fernando a champion Public School Athlete, Ranjan Wattegedara a National Tennis Champion and Sidath Jayanetti an outstanding Rugby player in the University Team. Virginia de Vos a champion swimmer.
There were those who excelled in the field of Fine Arts. Sushila Thiyagarajahan exponent of Bharathanatyam who had presented her Aragentram, Sujatha Lena a member of the famous “Heen Baba Troupe”. Rohini Anandarajaha graceful North Indian Manipuri dancer and Primrose Wijewardanea Sinhala Radio Artiste with several recordings to her credit.
We were unique in that we were the first batch with a parallel batch in Peradeniya, there being only one Faculty of Medicine, in Colombo up to 1962. Our batch increased in numbers with passing years, reaching a total of 168 by 1964 due to 10 students joining the batch from the Peradeniya Faculty.
Having a parallel in Peradeniya resulted in our batch being cautioned that post intern employment in the Health Department could not be guaranteed. This caused an exodus of many of our batch mates to seek employment abroad. As far as it was possible to trace they are scattered in the UK (30), the USA (34),Canada (1),Australia (9) and New Zealand (9), while the balance continued to serve in Sri Lanka.
Among those who remained in Sri Lanka some chose to be Academics. The most distinguished of these was the late Chandrasiri Niriella who was the Vice Chancellor of the Ruhuna University and the Professor of Forensic Medicine at the Ruhuna Medical Faculty.
Sanath Lamabadusuriya held the post of the Dean of the Faculty of Medicine Colombo and the Professor of Paediatrics. He was awarded the M B E by Queen Elizabeth the II Manel Wijesundara was the Professor of Parasitology Faculty of Medicine Peradeniya
Lalani Rajapakse was the Associate Professor of Community Medicine, Faculty of Medicine Colombo.
Kusuma Ruberu was the Head of the Departments of Physiology and Medical Education, Faculty of Medicine Sri Jayewardenepura.
The writer and Sanath Lamabadusuriya had the distinction of holding the post of President of the Sri Lanka Medical Association, in 2006 and 2011 respectively.
Those of our batch who chose to specialize in the varied branches of medicine shone in their respective fields. Revo Drahaman is an Otolaryngologist
M. H. S Cassim, Chirasri Jayaweera Bandara, Zita Subasingha and J.G Wijetunga are Ophthalmologists. The first three were Presidents College of Ophthalmologists Sri Lanka.
(Late)Lucian Perera was a General Surgeon. Lalantha Amarasingha specialized in Plastic Surgery and was the pioneer consultant of the Burns Unit at the National Hospital Colombo. Though retired, he continues to work at the Army Hospital on a voluntary basis.
Chanaka Wijesekera is an Orthopaedic Surgeon and Nithya Jayawickrama an Obstetrician and Gynaecologist. Victor Rajapakse, (late) W Rajasooriyar and the writer are Anaesthesiologists.
Senarat Jayatillake is Sri Lanka’s first fully qualified Oncologist. Chithra Weeratunge was the Chief Medical Officer Ports Health Authority. SardhaWijayratnewastheChief Medical Officer of the Tyre Co-operation. Puwan Sivananthanis a Rheumatologist. Harsha Samarajiva and Chandra Udukumbura are General Physicians and Rita Alwis a Paediatrician.
Ranjith Bulathsinghala, late Tilak Dayaratne, Swarna de Silva, J. C. Fernano, Suranganie Fernando, late V Ganesan, Roshanara Gunaratne, Gwendoline Herath, Ananda Hettiarchchi, Ranjit Kuruppu, Shirlene Punchihewa, and H. N. Wickramasingha are General Practitioners serving in different parts of Sri Lanka.
Some of our batch mates chose Public Health and Administrative positions.
L. N. D Abeygunawardane secured a WHO fellowship to specialize in Health Education. Having worked in South Carolina, he returned to Sri Lanka to work at the UNICEF as a Director Health Education.
(Late) Bernard Randeniya was the Director of Cancer Hospital Maharagama.
(Late) Punsiri Fernando was the Director of the Anti-Malaria Campaign.
Wimal Jayakuru was the first female Chief Epidemiologist.
S.A.P Gnaissara was a Medical Administrator who became the Deputy Director General of Health Services (Training and Research) Ministry of Health.
Pramilla Senanayaka was the Assistant Director General of the International Planned Parenthood Federation.
Sriyani Basnayake was the Medical Director of the Family Planning Association of Sri Lanka.
(Late) Priyade Silva was also engaged in the Family Planning Field.
Wasantha Jayasuriyawas a Medical Officer of Health in the Colombo Municipality.
Sadly 29 of our batch mates are with us no more. They are sadly missed and fondly remembered.
The Graduating batch of 1967 had their first Reunion at the Holiday Inn Colombo in 1988, and Its 25th Anniversary Reunion in 1992 at the Lanka Oberoi .The first Reunion including all those who could join from abroad was held in 1997 at Coral Gardens Hikkaduwa. The 40th Anniversary Celebrations were held at Cinnamon Lodge Habarana in 2007. Our 45th Anniversary was held at Chaya Trans Hikkaduwa in 2012 with a record number of 56 batch mates participating along with their spouses. In addition to these several reunions have been held in the UK and the USA.
This year when our batch is celebrating 50 years of graduation as Medical Doctors, a grand reunion is planned at the Jet Wing Blue Hotel in Negambo from the 3rd to the 5th of March, and 52 batch mates and their spouses are expected to attend. This is indeed remarkable as all of us are now more than three score years and ten in age. Some of us are meeting for the first time after half a century and we are looking forward to a fun filled weekend. The action packed programme includes a brief Mini “Scientific Session” on Saturday morning and a Grand Reunion Dinner Danceon Saturday night.
This has been made possible due to the hardworking organizing committee ably chaired by super-efficient Swyrie Balendra with Lakshman Abeygunawardane acting as Secretary, and Committee Members Sriyani Basnayaka, Pramilla Senanayake, Sriyani Dias and the writer.