“One of the things I loved about biology was the cells, how they operate…and I love people. When I did my studies at medical school and my residency, I found myself gravitating to oncology. I felt like I could make a difference there and I found cancer to be so interesting.”
By Sharmain Grainger
Using the term “Married to Medicine” does not merely relate to a reality television series for Nadia Nalini Ramdin. Rather, it is the very reason why she exists. But be clear, she is by no means married to a doctor, instead she is a specialist who has devoted her life to medicine, and she couldn’t be any happier with her choice.
Delving into the fields of Hematology and Oncology has allowed Nadia to save many lives over the years, essentially allowing her to realise what she believes is her destined calling.
You see, since she was but a young girl, Nadia knew she wanted to become a doctor. It might have had something to do with the nudge she got from her mother, but for sure she remembers looking up to her family’s physician back in the day with such fondness that she somehow knew she had to follow the path of medicine.
Today Nadia is a distinguished medical practitioner operating out of the prestigious Geisinger Medical Center in Danville, Pennsylvania, United States.
She is clearly yet another ‘feather in Guyana’s cap’ when it comes to those Guyanese who have evolved into outstanding professionals, and who have been etching indelible marks both on the local and international scene.
Reflecting on her young days recently, Nadia remembers her father, Allan Ramdin, being a headmaster at one school and her mother, Rachel Ramdin, the deputy headmistress at another. However, when she started attending primary school, both her parents were teaching at the same school – Novar Primary at Mahaicony, East Coast Demerara.
“I remember my mom taking me to school and she taught me, I think, until Standard One, and then my dad taught me until I wrote Common Entrance. They just kept moving from class to class with me,” recounted a smiling Nadia. But she certainly wasn’t spared extra work because her parents were her class teachers. In fact, she remembers all too well being tasked with a great deal of schoolwork and lots of homework.
Her hard work did pay off, as she graduated from primary level school among the top performing pupils of the country who participated in Common Entrance that year. It was quite a few years ago, but Nadia recalls her score being good enough to make her the 15th top performer in the country.
She was eligible to attend The Bishops’ High School. After completing first form there, Nadia was among the first batch of The Bishops’ High School girls to secure a place at the then top all-boys school – Queen’s College [QC]. “Our class went over to QC from second form, so we became the first set of girls that got integrated into that school,” Nadia recounted.
Reminiscing about the experience, a still euphoric Nadia said, “Oh my God, it was an amazing experience! We loved being in the same class with the guys…we had this wonderful class and I think our class had this very special bond. Even now we kind of still have a close connection. My class had a lot of really great people…there was Roger Harper [former West Indies cricketer] and Andrew Pollard [Senior Counsel] in my class; a really great group of students with good personality, and they were really smart too.”
But high school days could not have been worthwhile without the exceptional tutors who catered to their educational needs, Nadia confided, as she added, “we had some excellent teachers.”
Although she was born into a family of educators, Nadia, the second of three girls born to her parents, from an early age gravitated to medicine.
“I always wanted to be a doctor and my mom always encouraged me to become a doctor if that was my choice. But the person who really inspired me was Dr. Harricharran,” Nadia divulged.
Dr. Harricharran, Nadia recalled, had a clinic at Mahaicony and, according to her, “he was just the kindest person I have ever met. He was a really good family practice doctor. He took such good care of my family…from childbirth to a cold or fever, he took care of the family, and he always had such a wonderful personality”.
According to Nadia, “he inspired me to say from an early age ‘hey, this is really what I want to do’.” Indeed, Dr. Harricharran was a professional the Ramdins didn’t mind their young daughter emulating.
After completing secondary school here, Nadia migrated with her family to the United States. Understandably when she attended City University of New York – Brooklyn College, she majored in Biology.
“It was all sciences for me, because I knew that someday I wanted to do Medicine,” Nadia related. But life wasn’t always easy and straightforward for the Ramdins. Nadia recalled that while she was pursuing her college education her father passed away, leaving her mother to single-handedly care for the family.
But, according to Nadia, her mother, who was a bank teller at the time, never lost hope in her children.
“She was always saying don’t let anything stand in your way. She worked her butt off! I did not have to work a single day and go to college…She said ‘concentrate on your studies and I will take care of everything’. She was busy ensuring me and my sisters were well educated. She always wanted all of us to have a good education, because she would say ‘in order for you to get up in life, you need a good education and a good career’,” said Nadia of her mother.
Although driven by her passion for medicine, at one point, Nadia found herself torn between the idea of working in a laboratory to better understand the biology of living organisms and physically caring for people in need of health care. Her love for people guided her ultimate choice.
“I didn’t want to be in a laboratory all the time, because I love people, so I really wanted to be with the patients and give patient care,” Nadia asserted.
Her advanced studies were pursued at Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School in New Jersey. Although she was focused on her goal of becoming a medical practitioner, Nadia recalled that her studies were no ‘walk in the park’.
“There were struggles, and I can tell you that studies at that Medical School were probably the hardest I’ve ever done…it was the ‘brightest of the brights’ there, and so it was highly competitive,” she recalled.
But she persevered and was able to graduate with her Doctor of Medicine [MD] Degree, and went on to complete her residency in Internal Medicine. But this was not nearly enough for Nadia. She practiced medicine for two years, but went back to study in order to specialise in the fields of Hematology [the branch of medicine that involves the study and treatment of blood] and Oncology [the study and treatment of tumours].
Specialising in Hematology/Oncology, Nadia first started practicing in Fort Lauderdale, Florida but would only remain there for three years. “I left because there were too many hurricanes and I missed by family back in New York,” she said.
Moreover, Nadia ended up accepting a place at the Harold Alfond Center for Cancer Care in Augusta, Maine, where she offered her expertise in Oncology. She also worked as a Hematologist at Pen Bay Medical Center in Rockport, also in Maine.
There have been many success stories over the years, but the one that resonates the most with Nadia to date, is the case of Melissa Williams – a Guyanese woman who was having a difficult time accessing health care for her infirmity. Williams, according to Nadia, was diagnosed with a brain tumour. At the time Nadia was visiting Guyana and was able to make swift moves to help Williams travel to the United States to have a major surgery done to remove the tumour.
“It wasn’t cancerous, but she was at death’s door…if she hadn’t accessed treatment she would have been dead,” Nadia said as she recalled how Williams made a full recovery.
“If you saw her now you would not believe what she went through before surgery.”
Nadia’s calling as a medical professional was further validated when she was required to deliver patient and then palliative care to someone she had all her life regarded as her best friend and confidant – her mother.
In a sombre tone, Nadia remembered six years ago as an especially troubling time of her life, when her mother was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, which had already started to spread to her liver. At stage four, Nadia knew there wasn’t much hope for her mom, but she was prepared to ensure that her final days would be as comfortable as possible. After all, she was for years prior to that, trained to deliver such care.
“One of the things I loved about biology was the cells, how they operate…and I love people. When I did my studies at medical school and my residency, I found myself gravitating to Oncology. I felt like I could make a difference there and I found cancer to be so interesting,” Nadia reflected.
She’d long recognised that Oncology gave her the spectrum not only to treat a disease and cure it, but it also extended to rendering palliative care so that patients can live many years with a disease, complete with the best quality of life possible, and die without pain or suffering.
But she never imagined having to administer such care so close to home.
“That experience was pretty profound and impactful in my life,” Nadia remembered. She recalled that during her last days, her mother’s desire was to return to the simplicity of Guyana, a country she always loved.
“I took three months off work and I came back to Guyana, with my sisters, to grant my mother her wish. I took care of her until she died one week after we returned to the US…I can still remember hearing her last five heartbeats through my stethoscope,” Nadia shared.
Even through her death, Nadia related that her mother was still giving to her. “She gave me that opportunity to see cancer through the eyes of a caregiver. She was my rock!”
To continue her devotion to areas such as Oncology that have been helping to improve the delivery of patient care, Nadia said that last year she jumped at the opportunity to join the staff at Geisinger Medical Center.
“Oncology is a field that is expanding rapidly, there is always new treatment now, and we are making great inroads…that is one of the reasons I like to practice at Geisinger, because of the latest technology they have, the great support staff and very bright physicians with specialities, that are able to come together, and we are able to give patients the best chance at survival,” Nadia informed.
She added, “It makes me happy to say to people who come in with cancer and say they don’t know what to do, ‘hey, I can treat you and I can help you survive’.”
Geisinger is described as an integrated health services organisation widely recognised for its innovative use of electronic health record and the development of innovative care delivery models presented by professionals who combine world-class services with a human touch.
It was this very human touch that Nadia had long experienced when she and her family utilised the services of Dr. Harricharran. For this very reason, too, Nadia knew she had to devote her life to Medicine.
“I think Medicine takes so much out of you as a woman that it is really hard to have a husband and kids and have that family life. I know many women do it, but I opted not to.”
“I wanted to dedicate more time to my career, and I think having kids and a husband would have taken away from that, because I really would not have been able to devote time to children that they would require…I think having kids might have been a selfish act on my part, so I chose not to do that, and I am happy with my choice,” said Nadia, who also is integrally involved in teaching medical students and Residents.
She is nevertheless thankful for the support of her extended family, including her two sisters and niece. “We are extremely close,” Nadia emphasised.
In addition to factoring in time for family, Nadia also lends support to other causes including mentoring of youths, and reaches out, when her schedule permits, to the Queens College Alumni Association of New York and the Guyana-Jamaica Friendship Association.
But she does take some time out for herself too. In so doing, Nadia has been known to take a break to engage in activities such as reading, kayaking, hiking and travelling to interesting locations. A full and thoroughly rewarding life for a ‘Special Person’.
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