My UEA Story: Professor Veena C Rodrigues
“My earliest memory of wanting to be a teacher was around the age of 5 because of a very inspiring Primary School teacher. As a teenager, it was my desire to help others that crystallised into studying medicine”. Veena ended up combining both of her passions by becoming a medical educator. She counts Professor Sam Leinster (the founding Dean of Norwich Medical School) as an inspiration and mentor: “I am very grateful to be able to continue to work with him and learn from him”.
In 1994, the Cambridge Commonwealth Trust and the Dharam Hinduja Cambridge Trust awarded Veena a joint scholarship to come from India to the UK, for an MPhil degree in Epidemiology at the University of Cambridge. Moving to the UK from India has had an important effect on her career journey. “I thoroughly enjoyed the opportunity to learn from the experts and interact with international and home students, both within and outside the course”.
Just before the end of her course, Veena was successful in getting a job as a Medical Epidemiologist at the Institute of Cancer Research (Surrey). “After a few years in this research post, I started missing teaching and interaction with students, so I was delighted with my success in getting a Clinical Lecturer training post in Public Health Medicine at St. George’s Medical School, London”.
Towards the end of her speciality training, Veena transferred to Norfolk for family reasons. “Soon, I spotted an advert for a Consultant in Public Health Medicine at Norfolk Primary Care Trust to work half-time in conjunction with the newly opened Norwich Medical School at UEA”.
The move to Norfolk facilitated Veena’s dream job, allowing her to work within her medical speciality as well as using innovative methods in curriculum development and delivery. “The job was challenging, as all split posts are; trying to be flexible enough to meet the needs of both institutions but also being highly organised to ensure a successful outcome”. After several years spent working across service and academic Public Health Medicine, the NHS reorganisation in 2013 led to Veena’s employment being based wholly in Norwich Medical School.
“My strong work ethic, determination to succeed, and perseverance has helped me overcome the challenges I faced along the way to get to where I am today. Whether at work or in my personal life, my optimism helps me to look for the silver lining in every cloud I encounter”.
Veena relates some of the challenges she has faced to being an overseas doctor from the BME community.
“I have faced the whole spectrum of overt racism to micro-aggressions and unconscious bias, both in my personal and professional life. However, I have never let that get me down, believing strongly in my own abilities, persevering with my ambitions and passion, and choosing my battles carefully. Having a close network of colleagues who can provide mutual peer support when needed has been instrumental in helping me through challenging situations and difficult times”.
For those who may aspire to a similar role, Veena advises to “have strong self-belief, work hard, identify a network of peers who share your values and aspirations, and find a good mentor. A large dose of optimism always helps!”