(MyStory 005): Three Hows in Dr. Tenzing's Life

My Story Episode 005 || © Vision Club 2020

Dr. Chundak Tenzing, Seva Foundation

Dr. Chundak Tenzing is a true visionary who has applied his medical and public health expertise to build and manage comprehensive eye care and blindness prevention programs that provide high quality services to patients throughout South East Asia. Dr. Tenzing’s contributions to improving eye care in developing countries have been internationally recognized by numerous leaders in the field. Dr. Tenzing understands the many challenges of providing medical care in remote rural areas, having conducted over thirty surgical eye camps in the hills of Nepal and Tibet. Additionally, as cornea specialist, he has conducted hundreds of corneal transplantations and treated countless corneal infections.

Dr. Tenzing earned his Masters of Public Health (2003) at Johns Hopkins University. He has dedicated his career to the development of sustainable, quality eye care programs in some of the world’s poorest communities. A fluent speaker of five languages, Dr. Tenzing understands the value of partnerships at the local level. In addition to being a skilled practitioner, Dr. Tenzing has a strong background in research that has allowed him to conduct assessments and surveys to identify the major causes of blindness and visual impairment and barriers to eye care services.

Dr. Tenzing recounts the moments in his past that shaped not only his life but of so many. He truly presents an epitome of simple living and here he writes about three life events in very elaborate details: how he enrolled into medical school, Ophthalmology and GP training. 

How I got admission to a medical school

My name was second on the list of the people called for an interview. I got curious about the person who scored higher than me. The coveted scholarship was slipping away. Little did I know that God was on my side. The scholarship was offered by the Ministry of education for students who came from remote places in the country. There was only one seat and the competition was tough. Winning the scholarship guaranteed admission to a medical school in the neighboring country. There was no medical school in the applicants’ native country.

I took notice of the busy secretary at the ministry. I waited for him and chased him after office hours as he was returning home. I offered him tea and requested him for help. I requested him to go through the files of the first candidate on the list. He called me the next day and let me look over the first applicant’s application papers. Everything was in order. I was baffled and convinced that I had no chance.

I started wondering if the applicant had applied in the past also when applications were invited from all over the country. It was called a free competition. The scholarship was offered based on merit. The secretary showed a pile of files. I sorted it out and found out the person I was looking for. To my surprise and relief, the applicant had submitted a different citizenship paper. The applicant’s father was a high official in a government office.

I showed the discrepancy in the place of birth -one stating the place of birth as the capital city and the other stating the place of birth as a remote place in the far west. On seeing the evidence, the secretary got furious- how dare the applicant does forgery. He took the files and showed to his superiors.

Later, he told me due action will be taken. On the day of the interview the first applicant was asked who is the most famous person in the country. it was a man who climbed first the world’s highest mountain in the history of mankind. He had the same name as mine. We could eavesdrop on the closed door of the room and hear what was being asked. My name was called next. The principal interviewer called me doctor and congratulated. The rest of the interviewers also wanted to know my plans for the future after being a medical doctor.

I was thrilled with happiness and thanked my stars. I had no help in the city and a miracle had happened. My parents lived far and it took 14 days on foot, train and bus to reach the capital city. When my father finally arrived, I broke the good news but he was not thrilled. He wanted me to take care of his ranch and family barter trade business. When I told him where I will be studying, his eyes opened wide with surprise.

Villagers from my place including my parents travelled far away. Once on such a journey, my grandfather fell ill. My father about seventeen years old then was his attendant. Long before I was born my father made a wish. He wished his unborn son would someday walk the long corridors of the hospital like the young doctors who were attending the sick. On hearing that I would be going to the same medical school where he had made a wish, my father said, son, you must study medicine. God has fulfilled a wish.

How I became an Ophthalmologist
I had gone on 18 months’ training on general practice in a developed country. Upon my return, ( how I returned is another story) I was asked to join an eye hospital. The senior consultant who was the founder of the eye hospital, promised to send me to a neighboring country for post graduate studies within two years of working in the eye hospital.

Another consultant ophthalmologist presented with a similar opportunity to study in a developed country. He gave a look of surprise and questioning- “how stupid can you be” when I declined his offer saying I already gave my word to the senior consultant and my application is pending. Another colleague accepted the offer.

Two years passed by but there was no news. So, I decided to go to the medical college, where I was supposed to study and find out what happened to my application.After traveling sixty hours on a train from the nearest airport from my country, I reached the private campus like village at a hillside. There were students from different places in the world. I checked in a hotel. The next morning, I pulled out my well pressed clean shirt and pants, put on a belt and polished leather shoes with clean socks. I applied Brylcream on my thick black hair which had a tendency to stand up straight and refuse to be flattened.

I went to the admission office of the medical college and was asked to wait on a sofa by an young lady who was the secretary to the principal. There was no body waiting in that empty room besides me. Finally, the principal arrived. He had an air of self importance. He wore a thin black moustache and a distinctive tie. He gave me a nod when I stood up on my feet and entered his room which had a flap door. The secretary asked me to go inside after allowing sufficient time to let him settle in.
Upon hearing my reason for traveling from so far to know the status of my application, he rang the bell. He called the secretary and asked her to check the list of applicants and inform me. He told me there is a long list of applicants and his office cannot entertain individual request from an applicant who visits him without being called.

He told me to go back and wait. He further added I made a futile trip. I should learn to be patient. With the unhelpful attitude of the principal, I felt dejected. I toured around the campus and luckily I met a fellow citizen and colleague who was studying there. He quickly remarked that the principal is like the elephant’s long tusk for display as show piece. The hidden tooth, which chews, is the founder and owner of the campus. He makes all the decision.

As per my friend’s advice, that evening, I stood on a long line of people in front of the founder’s residence. It was a small single storied bungalow, which looked modest for a rich family that owns the campus. Finally when I was summoned inside the dim lit sparsely furnished room, I met the founder who was seated on a comfortable chair. He had an air of efficiency. He quickly summed me up at his first glance. He had no patience for nonsense and casual formalities. Within a few minutes he dismissed his client with an yes or no answer.

He asked me to show my transcript and asked me which subject I was interested in. After checking that I had the required qualification, he asked who will pay for my studies. I named the donor organization which was supporting the eye hospital. The founder asked me to come the next day. He needed to fax the donor my information and check. The next day when I saw him, he said the donor organization confirmed my candidacy and asked if I can start the course immediately. I thanked him and said I needed to go back to my country to collect my belongings and get permission from the eye hospital to leave for studies. Within a month, I was back at the college studying ophthalmology.

How I got Nominated to GP Training
On a lazy Saturday not Sunday morning, I was flipping through the daily newspaper. An advertisement caught my attention. I started dreaming of a foreign land.

At the interview day, I found out, of the sixty applicants, ten were called. One of the interviewer was a professor from a foreign country. I felt like he took an instant liking towards me. He was the main person heading a foreign visitors’ program at his university.

I do not remember what questions were asked and answers were given. But I was the fortunate one who got selected. There was one more hurdle. I needed a no objection letter from the department of education based on a no objection letter from the department of health.

The official at the department of health had the pale skin of Dracula. His name sounded like the name of the person who guards the gate to heaven. He was composing a letter when I uttered a meek, may I come in, sir? Before he approved, I was standing near his desk asking him to sign where I had written no objection, on the margin of my application letter, which was in front of my employment record file.

He slowly flipped through my papers. He was not amused with my excitement. After reviewing the papers, he noted, I was short of fourteen days for completion of minimum three years’ employment requirement to be eligible to go on study leave to a foreign country. He added, rules are rules.

I pleaded saying that such rules did not apply to candidates who had high up connections. Since I did not have such privileges, he had to make an exception to the rule.

I kept picking up the application paper he crumpled and threw angrily on the ground a couple of times. I stroked the paper flat while putting the paper back on his desk. It was as though I was stroking his fraught nerves. I pleaded for his good sense and kept my emotions in check.He made several attempts to get back to the letter he was drafting before I entered but made no progress. I was hovering over him like a thought block.

Suddenly, out of frustration he signed with all his might almost tearing the paper. He exclaimed he had never seen a more obstinate fool who does not understand rules and logic.

I thanked him profusely and quickly zipped out of his room. I got his secretary to stamp his name and designation under his signature. The ministry of education issued a formal letter of no objection after receiving the signed letter from the department of health.
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