Immigrant medical student advocates for community

By Nick Attam
Praajna Sankar // Pic supplied

Praajna Sankar, born in India and raised in Australia, is an aspiring doctor and passionate community advocate

Born in India and raised in Australia, Praajna Sankar, an aspiring doctor and passionate community advocate, is a modern-day luminary. Her experience as an immigrant has not only shaped her journey into medicine but has also instilled within her the desire to serve her community and beyond.

When Praajna was just 11 years old, her family relocated from India to Townsville, Australia, in search of better opportunities. With the support of her loving family, Praajna adjusted to her new environment and soon began excelling in her studies.

“The most challenging part was to navigate the dissonance between what was acceptable at school and home, and trying to determine what was objectively the ‘right’ way to think,” she recalls.

Praajna’s cultural background has played a significant role in her medical studies and interactions with patients. She credits her ability to listen attentively to older patients and her receptiveness to feedback from her professors and consultants to the values she has inherited from her upbringing.

“I find that I am a lot more willing to listen to older patients and do believe this has to do with the emphasis placed on respecting elderly individuals in my cultural background,” she says.

Praajna with JCU student volunteers at India Fest Townsville Inc // Pic supplied

Throughout her journey, Praajna has found inspiration in numerous role models within her community. She has encountered these individuals through her involvement with the North Queensland Hindu Community and India Fest Townsville. Their selfless dedication to community projects outside of their professional and personal lives has motivated Praajna to pursue medicine with a focus on benefiting her community.

“Many of them are individuals I have met whilst volunteering with the North Queensland Hindu Community, or with the team behind India Fest Townsville,” Praajna shares. “I keep this aim of altruism at the forefront of my reasons for pursuing medicine, and the consequent benefit to the community as the end goal of my medical practice in the future.”

As a medical student, Praajna has been fortunate not to experience significant obstacles. She acknowledges the privilege of being in a profession largely composed of immigrants and knows she can access their experiences and support should she encounter difficulties in the future.

With her medical career, Praajna plans to give back to the immigrant community in Townsville and beyond. She understands that language barriers, differing expectations of medical interviews, and failure to use cultural context in care decisions can make it difficult for immigrants to achieve wellbeing. By incorporating cultural context into her practice, she hopes to make it easier for the immigrant community to have their health needs met.

L-R: Ramandeep Kaur, Dr Anu Sankar (Praajna’s mother) with Praajna // Pic supplied

“My hope is that my experience as an immigrant will give me the ability to better understand what it means for individuals to feel ‘well’,” she explains.

In addition to her medical pursuits, Praajna is actively involved in community initiatives and programs, such as India Fest Townsville and events run by the North Queensland Hindu Community. She encourages young immigrants to attend these events and engage in conversation, leading to more opportunities to help out and make connections with others from similar backgrounds.

Praajna advises young immigrants pursuing careers in medicine or other professional fields to find hobbies and people outside of their profession to maintain a sense of satisfaction and balance in life. She recognizes the high expectations placed on young immigrants and encourages self-forgiveness in the face of failure, emphasising that the journey to success is long, non-linear, and doesn’t have to be unenjoyable.

Balancing her passion for community service with the demands of medical school is an ongoing endeavour for Praajna. She looks to the inspiring individuals in her community who prove that work and education commitments do not detract from community involvement.

Praajna volunteering at India Fest Townsville Inc // Pic supplied

“The people who inspire me are proof that demands from work and education commitments do not detract from participating in your community,” she says. “Ultimately, it boils down to doing what you can with the resources, including time, you have.”

As for her long-term goals, Praajna envisions remaining involved in the Townsville community that played a pivotal role in her development as a young person. She aims to give back by encouraging more young immigrants to become involved, possibly by creating school-based programs or simply promoting attendance at community events. Ultimately, she would like to be part of the team organising and running events.

“I think my career is probably the biggest avenue to serve the larger immigrant population in Australia,” Praajna asserts. “Many immigrants are often located in rural and remote regions, where I hope to work and perhaps orient my practice to better suit the wellbeing of these individuals and their families.”

Praajna’s journey, from a young immigrant adapting to a new culture to an aspiring medical professional dedicated to her community, is a testament to her resilience and determination. Her commitment to bridging cultures and improving the lives of immigrants through healthcare and community initiatives marks her as a modern-day luminary whose impact will be felt for years to come.

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