November 17, 2015
Davendra Sharma, MBBS, DM, professor and interim chair of behavioral sciences, has been at Ross University School of Medicine for over 20 years. Here, he explains not only the great transformations taking place on campus, but also his unique path from skeptic outsider to passionate advocate of the university.
What first brought you to Ross University School of Medicine (RUSM)?
When I first came to RUSM in 1993, I was working as the psychiatrist for the country of Dominica and was very much involved in developing a good mental health program locally and for the region. I was recruited by the dean of RUSM to lecture on a part-time basis, and I did that from 1993 to 2000. I accepted a full-time position at RUSM in 2000.
What are some of your memories of campus in the 1990s?
The main campus was in Roseau on the bay front. It was a leased property, and a far cry from the modern, high-tech auditoriums we currently have on the Portsmouth campus. It was very underdeveloped. To be honest, the ambience was not good—it was like working in tin cans.
I recently met with pre-med advisors, and one asked a very perceptive question: We know you talk about your strengths, but what are some of your weaknesses? I responded that, though we have a much more beautiful campus than we did when I first arrived, we still have some of those tin cans around, like my department building, which is the oldest on the current campus. A colleague of mine has even crawled through the roof to drop into a locked office! So, I explained that this is the weakness.
We may not be the prettiest campus among the offshore schools, but within the tin cans we have hearts of steel. Of strength. Students come here in large numbers because they know we work to make them successful. That premed advisor responded that my answer truly touched her, and now she wants to send her students to RUSM.
I gained enormous respect for the sacrifice, motivation, and courage that the students were showing to become doctors.
What were some of your first impressions about the university?
The truth? When I was asked to join RUSM on a part-time basis in 1993, I was not very keen. There was a huge stigma against RUSM from the University of the West Indies (UWI), where I did my postgraduate training. It was as if RUSM, a private enterprise, was intruding on our realm of aristocracy. For the crème de la crème—the persons who became doctors in this part of the world—it was as not to be accepted that persons who could not enter the UWI should be allowed to become doctors.
I was good friends with the RUSM dean at that time; we played squash together. He asked me to do lectures at the campus in Roseau and I agreed because I cannot say no, especially to friends. But I came to enjoy the appreciation of the students, and became more and more enchanted with RUSM and the fact that the students were intelligent and highly motivated. I was no better than they were. I gained enormous respect for the sacrifice, motivation, and courage that the students were showing to become doctors.
We have grown to a force that is beyond comparison. We have the commitment. We have the love for our students. That is what this school is about.
How is RUSM different today from when you first started?
Physically, the transformation has been unbelievable and is still ongoing. There’s a new Center for Teaching and Learning, which is nearly finished and awesome, and an amazing anatomy lab and simulation lab. But what remains is the care and quality of our training that made it possible for our pioneers to succeed.
And that training has not been static. Our dean made a promise that our school will be one campus integrating the basic sciences and clinical programs. That is happening. We are not static. We are a dynamic campus. We have made changes in our curriculum, in clinical skills training, and in our support services to further enhance the student experience. We have something that goes beyond materialism. We have the commitment. We have the love for our students. That is what this school is all about, or I would not have been here so long. I grew up in RUSM, and I am now the interim chair of my department. I am proud of my progress, and the support I have received from RUSM. And I am proud that I have supported so many who are now successes in the medical field.
What are some of your favorite places on campus today?
I really like to sit outdoors at the tables and have my lunch. The Picard Food Pavillion, a row of about 20 food vendors, is nice—we call it The Shacks. I like the atmosphere and the chance to tease students about their meal choices!
What is your favorite thing about RUSM today?
Gosh! My favorite thing would be my department team. I have some unbelievable people working for me and my students. I can count on them to go above and beyond—all are exceptional. If I had to make a full list, it is impossible.
I have too many favorites including our support staff, security team, administrators, and student clubs.
We may not be the prettiest campus among the offshore schools, but within the tin cans we have hearts of steel. Of strength. Students come here in large numbers because they know we work to make them successful.
What are you looking forward to in the university's future?
What I have looked forward to, I am already seeing happen. I believe that our future is dependent on achieving our mission of making our students successful, and I see the necessary changes happening for that to be possible.
In the end, our tin cans made to withstand hurricane force winds are filled with the force of love for our students. I look forward to the day when our university will be recognized in the US as a center of excellence equal to or greater than the best the US has to offer.
I am proud to be part of this progress. I am proud of my students; they keep me going. Their words of thanks mean much to me. They cannot begin to understand my sense of pride, humbleness, and gratefulness, for entrusting themselves to my teaching and for allowing me to be part of their lives and success.
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