Being forced to give up his dreams to now living it – Dr Surujpaul Singh tells his story

Dr Surujpaul Singh at his graduation

By Lakhram Bhagirat

The dream for Surujpaul Singh has always been to become a doctor and he saw himself doing nothing else. He worked very hard in secondary school to acquire the knowledge that would position him on the path towards achieving that dream.

Surujpaul worked so hard that he graduated as valedictorian of the Patentia Secondary School. However, with all that success his dream was never guaranteed by his parents for the sole fact that they were financially constrained.

Both his parents were in the retail businesses but their income was stretched thin by ensuring Surujpaul and his sister got the necessities in life.

“I always wanted to study medicine since I was a child. I really like science and was very curious about stuff. I remember when I was in secondary school, I was really interested in looking at stuff under the microscope and stuff. So, I always had a dream of becoming a doctor. I kind of got discouraged from that dream because mom and dad were like ‘oh it’d be too expensive to study medicine’ and so I gave up on my dream at that time,” he said.

After realising that his dream may be unreachable, Surujpaul entered into the workforce and started his stint as a teacher. He taught at a private institution for six months and then went on to work for Demerara Distillers Limited (DDL) for another six months. He would then venture back into teaching, this time at the Meten-Meer-Zorg Islamic Academy where he was employed for a year.

He also applied for a Government scholarship, to study medicine in Cuba, in 2004 when he finished school but was never shortlisted. Moving on from his dream of becoming a doctor, Surujpaul applied again for a scholarship, this time to study computer science.

In surgery

The Scholarship Committee accepted his application but awarded him a place in the batch to study agronomy. However, he would initially refuse the scholarship because he did not envision a career in agronomy.

“After I rejected the scholarship, the principal at the school I was teaching encouraged me to accept it. So I went back in and asked the Scholarship Director if it is still available and he said yes but when he reviewed my grades, he asked if I ever considered medicine. I told him that I did but I was not sure I would be accepted and he reviewed my grades and I was accepted in the medicine programme,” he related.

An ecstatic Surujpaul departed Guyana for Cuba in 2006, one step closer to achieving his dreams. There he spent seven years studying – one year learning Spanish, five years of med school and one year internship.

“Life in Cuba was hard. It wasn’t always easy in terms of getting food, transportation and other things. We used to get a stipend and my parents would also help out every now and again but it was still really difficult to get things, especially food. I remember this one time I barely had money to buy food. All I could buy was one pound of rice alone and it was really tough but I pushed through because I was one step closer to my dream job.”

He returned home in 2013 and spent a year at West Demerara Regional Hospital, three years at Wakenaam Cottage Hospital and a hinterland stint in Region One (Barima-Waini).

Dr Singh presenting his final year thesis

Now that he had accomplished one aspect of his dream, Surujpaul knew he had to take steps to realise his full potential. He wanted to specialise in an area that he believed was his best fit. So he applied for another scholarship to specialise in China, but this was rejected.

“When I did my surgery rotation in Cuba, I fell in love with obstetrics. The physiology of obstetrics, the physiology of pregnancy and everything is awesome. I found that it came to me very easy and that obstetrics and gynaecology is a specialty where you have an opportunity to save two lives – a mother and a child. When I was doing my internship, I thought I wanted to become a general surgeon because I found surgery really cool, but the first time I saw delivery as an intern I knew that is where I belonged. The first person the baby looked at was me and I think that was my defining moment that made me decide that, you know obstetrics and gynaecology is for me,” he explained.

Surujpaul, in 2016, applied to do his Master’s Degree in obstetrics and gynaecology through a programme with the University of Guyana and Case Western University in Ohio. There he was challenged when he began his residency at the Georgetown Public Hospital Corporation (GPHC) because he had very little knowledge of the field he was intending to specialise in.

That only made him work harder so whenever he came from 16-18 hours shifts, he would hit his books. He wanted to be the best and the best he was. Surujpaul graduated from the programme in September 2020 at the top of his class.

“Starting off my journey as a resident in Georgetown it was hard because some of my colleagues are a little bit further than I was. They had some surgical experience going into the programme, whereas I didn’t. I didn’t even know to read an ultrasound properly so I had to learn all of this stuff along the way.”

Learning ultrasounds during residency

Now he is excelling in the OBGYN field. Surujpaul was recently appointed as the Head of the Obstetrics and Gynaecology Department at the New Amsterdam Hospital in Berbice. In addition to that, he also holds several teaching roles and would lecture preventative medicine at the Green Heart Medical University and Rajiv Gandhi Medical School.

At the New Amsterdam Hospital, he mentors medical interns, medical students who studied in China and rotating doctors who studied in both China and Cuba. He is extremely passionate about teaching and hopes to one day become a professor of Obstetrics and Gynaecology.

Volunteering is also a big part of his life as he makes time to go on outreaches with various NGOs.

“I believe to be able to be able to practice medicine is a blessing and I think that any person that decides to practice medicine should honour that blessing. They have the ability to have a life in their hands and make a difference. People come to us with so much trouble and it really makes you happy when you’re able to resolve their problems.

“Medicine is not an easy journey it’s a really, really long journey. I have had to sacrifice a lot of time but OBGYN and medicine is my life. Anybody who wants to study medicine they must be willing to know that they have to sacrifice a lot if they want to be a really good doctor. They need to study really hard and make the sacrifices to get to the seat of privilege.”