Sometimes, life takes unexpected turns, leading an individual on a different path from what they had envisioned. Other times, individuals make the call to consciously change the path they are on.
Sana Shaikh is one such person, who gave up a career in medicine, just so that she could make a difference in the lives of the underprivileged in society.
Growing up, Sana knew that she wanted to be a doctor. Having closely observed her father, and knowing that he led a humble, and yet happy life left no doubt in her mind as to what career path to take.
Inevitably, as soon as she completed school, she went off to medical college to become a doctor—this is where her life took an unexpected turn. She started volunteering with Saathi, an organisation dedicated to helping children who had run away from home!
“Throughout my medical school, if there’s one thing I sought, it was mental peace. Volunteering, fortunately, was my answer. While it first started for selfish reasons, it went on to give me a sense of purpose,” says Sana in a conversation with The Better India.
In a post featured by Humans of Bombay, she recalls one of her first cases—an 11-year-old girl who refused to speak or eat. In an attempt to break her walls and engage the child, Sana would simply sit next to her, and offer to share her food. Eventually, there was a breakthrough, and the two formed a bond which remains to this day.
“After an official analysis, we found out she had HIV. I was only a 19-year-old, but I felt a responsibility towards her and decided to financially adopt her. She remains my ‘daughter’ to this day,” says Sana, in a post by Humans of Bombay.
Upon graduating, Sana joined a corporate hospital, but within ten days, she realised that something was missing—a sense of fulfilment, something which she had felt while she was volunteering.
So, she decided to take a risk, and leave her well-paying job and a career as a doctor, to join a non-profit organisation.
It turned out to be the best decision she could have ever made.
She joined the National AIDS Control Organisation and began working with children diagnosed with the terminal disease, where she would consult with 100-120 kids on a regular basis. It was during this time that she met a caretaker who had brought 20 mentally unstable HIV-infected children to her.
Upon probing she discovered that there was a home being run ‘for the rejected’ on the outskirts of Panvel. The nobility of the thought dominated her conscience, and she along with a group of colleagues decided to visit the home and help in whatever way possible.
“Our small gestures brought big smiles to their faces. Volunteers would teach the kids, who would walk to the community school without shoes, despite knowing that most wouldn’t live long enough to see their careers flourish. It made me realise that making a difference is not resource or goal driven but purely motive driven,” she says.
However, Sana wanted to create an even bigger impact.
With the encouragement of her mentors in the field of social work, at the age of 25, she went back to college—this time to earn an MBA degree!
However, the road wasn’t always smooth.
“The biggest challenge has been the fear of the unknown. When I moved from medicine to non-profit, there was uncertainty, and when I moved from non-profit back to school to complete my Master’s, it was a huge risk. I definitely had my own personal doubts,” she explains.
Eventually, her career led her to become the head of marketing Media.net, a digital advertising company. However, she continues to be involved in the social work scene, consulting for an upcoming company called Build The World (buildtheworld.org), which aims to provide a platform that will bring together volunteers, NGOs, and corporates to solve social problems.
“Meeting enthusiastic founders who not only want to solve complex social problems but are actually working to make this a self-sustaining movement which can rope in thousands of others is definitely a high point in my life,” says Sana.
Sana continues to work towards social causes while balancing a full-time job. She is especially passionate about tech-enabled social start-ups, which she feels have the potential to improve the lives of the masses.
According to her, the secret is to work hard, and channel resources towards a cause you believe in. This was what gave her the strength to move on from being a doctor, to being the person she had always wanted to be!
She says,“Making a difference in the world doesn’t have to mean that you must sacrifice your whole life, you can work at both simultaneously! Success is different for each individual; this is what mine looks like. Be resilient in defining your own way, and don’t forget to help people along the way—there is nothing more fulfilling, and that is what I consider victorious.”
(Edited by Gayatri Mishra)