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Indo-American shines in US Navy

His mother's death from cancer inspired Ramchandani to become a doctor and a lieutenant.

india Updated: Mar 30, 2006 11:54 IST

His mother's death from cancer inspired Suneil Ramchandani to become a doctor and today, this strapping Indian American is a proud lieutenant in the US Navy, a force he hopes to serve for at least another 20 years.

"I've told my friends I'll stay in the navy as long as they'll keep me," said Ramchandani, 30, who is an internal medicine resident at the prestigious US National Naval Medical Centre at Bethesda in Maryland.

Ohio-born Ramchandani, who recently completed a three-year research project on the effectiveness of anti-retroviral therapy for HIV/AIDS patients, is here to attend the ongoing 16th Asia-Pacific Military Medicine Conference.

The son of a Karachi-born father and a Chennai-born mother, Ramchandani's journey began when he was 10 and his mother was diagnosed with breast cancer. The family - his 28-year-old sister was then eight - was then residing in Los Angeles and returned to Chennai as his mother wanted to spend the last year of her life in the city of her birth.

"My mother's death had a very profound impact on me. That's when I decided to become a doctor," Ramchandani told IANS in an interview.

Entering Bethesda as a midshipman at 18, he graduated four years later and was commissioned as an officer in the US Navy.

"I was a teacher for a year with the US Navy at Freeport, Rhode Island. I then went on to medical school at Yale University and finished my Public Health degree from Harvard in the middle of that. For the past three years, I've been an internal medicine resident at Bethesda and have been doing research on anti-retroviral therapy in India," Ramchandani said.

What got him into the armed forces?

"A couple of things. Firstly at 18, I felt the armed forces would provide a sense of family to me. It would also provide the opportunity to serve a country that had given my family so much.

"Those two factors drove me into the military and I've had a beautiful time serving ever since," Ramchandani asserted.

Was it very difficult to get into Bethesda?

"It's not much more difficult or easier, I should say, to get into the armed forces or into medical school in the US as it would be for any other US citizen," he explained.

"There has been talk in the US of affirmative action, quotas and such. They are there, they are present but they are usually for under represented minorities.

"Indian Americans are over represented in medicine. The Indian population in America is approximately point five percent. Of the total physicians in the US, the percentage of Indian Americans is between eight and 10 percent. It's almost 20-fold to the proportion of the population.

"In such a situation, there will be no quota or special encouragement to bring Indian Americans in, but there will be no discouragement either," he said.

Are there many Indian Americans in the US armed forces? "We have quite a few, more than you would expect. Most of them would be in the medical corps. Very few are in other arms," Ramchandani said.

"I think Indian Americans are no different than any other segment of the population of America. They are spread across all three forces. There are more Indian Americans in the army simply because there are more people in the army. There are probably the fewest in the air force because there are fewer people in the air force," he pointed out.

Having come so far, there is a rather delicate matter father Raj and sister Neena want him to deal with - getting hitched.

"My family is urging me to take care of that part of my life quite urgently. I should do that soon. There's no one on the radar but it's something I should take care of," Ramchandani laughed.

His father is in semi-retirement and teaches medicine at the California State University at Los Angeles. His sister is a physician at Stanford University.

Ramchandani's father was just five when he moved to Mumbai after the partition of the subcontinent in 1947. He went to the US in 1965 for his doctorate in medicine, returned in 1971 to marry Sheila and the couple then went back to America.

--Indo-Asian News Service

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