Maheeka Seneviratne is a final-year resident in small animal surgery at the Royal Veterinary College. She underwent her undergraduate veterinary training at the University of Cambridge. Maheeka is from Sri Lanka and first moved to the UK for her veterinary studies in 2008.
1) How did you get into veterinary medicine?
When I was around 12-years old, my family pet, a Rhodesian Ridgeback went in to renal failure. Being deeply involved in his care at the end of his life, gave me an insight in to the veterinary profession in Sri Lanka. I always had a keen interest in science and a close relationship with animals, and this experience strengthened my resolve to pursue veterinary medicine as a career. Since then my goal became gaining a place at a vet school in the UK. I ordered prospectuses from all the universities that offered this course and spent hours reading these and making sure I was aware of the entrance requirements. Apart from working hard at my A-levels, I also made every effort to gain necessary work experience.
2) What was the most pivotal moment in your career/what are you most proud of?
Gaining a place on the residency programme at the RVC. A surgical residency had been my goal since I was a veterinary student and getting a place despite the challenges I faced as an international applicant was an incredible feeling.
3) What particular challenges did you face as an international student?
I first came to the UK as a 19-year old leaving home for the first time. Apart from adjusting to a completely new country I also had to face being away from my family. I was lucky that the short terms at Cambridge meant I could still spend a significant part of my time at home in Sri Lanka!
As a final-year veterinary student, I discovered my passion for surgery and made obtaining a surgical residency my goal. As I started doing my research on the positions available to me, I began to realise how much more challenging it would be for me given my international student status. One of my most disappointing moments was when I received an e-mail from my previous tutor at Cambridge saying that they would not be able to accept my application for a residency as they do not sponsor international student visas. Given the competition faced when applying for surgical residencies in general, there were definitely times when I felt extremely disheartened!
4) What's next?
For me, a large part of the reason I became a vet was to contribute towards developing the profession in Sri Lanka. While I certainly have become more realistic as to what that would involve, my goal hasn’t changed. I am also incredibly passionate about increasing the accessibility of quality veterinary education for international students, especially those from developing countries. Access to proper education is the key to developing the profession worldwide. Unfortunately, most of the established veterinary schools remain in developed counties with challenging access for those from countries that may need it the most. In fact, opportunities seem to be diminishing instead of increasing. For example, studying veterinary medicine at the University of Cambridge now cost approximately £58,000 per annum just in tuition fees; a massive increase since I graduated only 6-years ago. Similarly, with the UK now leaving the EU, places for international students on internship/residency programmes are becoming further limited.
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