Sunday, February 04, 2007

LAST POST FROM OTAGO UNIVERSITY- AN ACCOUNT OF A VISITING ACCADEMIC

The earliest memories of New Zealand goes back to my very early days and it was synonymous with multitude of brands of milk imported from NZ .Stretched up to the horizon, stunningly beautiful, green pastoral lands with grazing cows depicted on these television advertisements were the images that were created whenever the name “ New Zealand “ was uttered to me in my early years.
The bond with NZ was further strengthened by watching touring Black Caps with legendary names like HADLEES. My next stage of introduction to NZ was via my college which had a very rich and strong rugby and cricket tradition from British colonial era . We were demonstrated videos of ALL BLACKS matches just before the college’s annual Rugby encounter against Trinity College. Then the weird tribal dance ( HAKA) performed by ABs was a unique Kiwi cultural marker that was attractive and prompted us as kids to watch and play rugby matches, sometimes foolishly imitating HAKA. But, never in my life did I dream at that stage that I would be able to join the prestigious Otago University as an academic.
It all started, just after my doctoral thesis, when I wanted to complete an overseas appointment to fulfil a requirement of the Post Graduate Institute of Medicine in Colombo before being board certified as a medical specialist in Public Health. It may seem bizarre that a medical person was attached to the pharmacy school. The simple explanation is that my research interests were in PHARMACOEPIDEMIOLOGY and I simply wanted to bridge these two disciplines Thus, I ended up being attached to the Department of preventive and social medicine while working with Dr Pauline Norris as my overseas supervisor.
Dunedin was also not a new place for me; physically I had not visited the place before though. As a cricket and rugby fanatic, Carisbrook Oval in Dunedin was synonymous with Lords or Twickenham for that matter. So, subconsciously, I was elated that I was going to a place which was known to me in some ways than any other location. Later, it was proved to be the correct decision as my stay in the Pharmacy School and overall in the UNI was thoroughly enjoyable. It was so potent that I am sure with the passage of time, those nostalgic memories will keep me down to a certain extent.
The first semester flew really quickly as I was immersed in a dual load of work from both schools. Visiting the University pharmacy with Petty Napier to familiarise with Good Pharmacy Practice in NZ was pretty useful for me as it was one of those areas that I researched in SL. In hind sight , it was a pleasurable experience in comparison to what I encountered in pharmacy inspections for my doctoral thesis. Petty was jovial. So were the other staff. There were more inquiries on my native land than my inquiries about Pharmacy Practice in NZ. However, Petty took me through the legislation and procedures in a nutshell which enabled me to grasp late bombardments of information that I was exposed to when I started my appointment with MEDSAFE on drug regulatory activities.
Simultaneously, I stepped on to a controversial domain i.e DTCA in NZ with Dr Norris as a part of my research. We researched in to medicines advertising in NZTV and their health related claims and compliance with NZ regulations. Our findings will soon be published. But , quite interestingly, as a result of prolonged, exposure to TV in the analysis of data , I started watching countless numbers of soaps, reality shows like NZ and American Idol which, back home, I would have found hard to entail in my favourite list due to lack of time. Definitely, it seems like an occupational hazard for an academic who hardly finds any time even for high quality programmes of information, entertainment and education under normal circumstances. However, It was really interesting and richly rewarding working with people like Vickey, Stuart, Pauline etc in the Pharmacy Practice Research group .
During my stay, I was able to be a part of the New Zealand Pharmacovigillance centre .The experience that I gathered will be enormously useful for my routine work as the monitoring of Adverse Effects of drugs and vaccines is currently being carried out by the Unit I am attached to in Sri Lanka. Additionally, I worked with Denise Martins, the Southern Medicines Control officer of the MEDSAFE. It is with a deep sense of elation that I mention that these professionals went out of their way to accommodate all my requests related to their respective disciplines
In hindsight, I was really privileged to be a staff member of both the Medical School and Pharmacy School. It gives me a kind of satisfactory feeling that I was able to bridge two different academia and disciplines. The wealth of knowledge that I gathered was enormous. More than the benefits, I would be glad to contemplate on relationships and rapport I built with countless numbers of academics and non academics of diverse backgrounds in both schools. It is worth remembering the excellent time that I had with all those wonderful people. Those wonderful memorable, colourful and enjoyable brief stay that I had with all those wonderful people will linger eternally in my mind. Dunedin and Otago university is more like a second home to me now. Just before concluding this account ,let me remind that Dr Norris instructed me not to miss one other thing which I pen here lest I should forget.
Dunedin offered me the opportunity to meet the Sri Lankan test cricketers when they were down here in the summer. The rapport went to such an extent that these demi god like figures hardly contactable in SL, accepted our invitation for a dinner. It was also a novel experience in terms of behaving with superstars like Murali and Sanath. In Dunedin, I met one of my all time sports heroes, Jeff Wilson the Black caps and terrific ALL BLACKS winger. It was memorable too as Jeff was also from the South and one of the graduates of Otago University.
All these wonderful experiences sum up one thing: My stay in Dunedin and more precisely, at the Pharmacy school could not have been more terrific than this. I take all these wonderful memories with me and let me conclude this with a quotation from the Lord Buddha in Pali ;
Piyehi Vippa Yogo Dukko
Which literally means “separation from the loved ones is always a cause for sorrow”.
( PREPARED FOR THE NEWSLETTER " CAPSULE")

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