Siseena wasn’t dispirited when her daughter called her ‘Udaharanam Sujatha’ after a movie where the heroine takes up studies later in her life or when her colleagues expressed doubts about her decision to pursue a professional course. It was her determination and perseverance that make 47-year-old Siseena’s journey from a junior public health nurse to a PhD, quite inspiring. She was proud and joyous when she told her name as Dr. Siseena as she took charge at Kollam Shaktikulangara Family Health Centre. However, Siseena, a native of Kannur, admits that her path to fulfilling her dream was laden with thorns and difficulties. But, her favourite nursing profession, that she upholds with pride, had inspired and encouraged her to wade through tough waters and achieve her dreams. Siseena is the first junior public health nurse in Kerala to get a PhD.
From hate to love
“I completed Pre – Degree and graduation from Thalassery Brennen College. It was one of my friends who suggested taking up nursing as it would fetch me a job quite easily. But, nursing wasn’t my dream job; I didn’t like it even when I was studying it. I thought that being locked up in the nearby central jail was better than studying in a nursing college. The tutors’ harsh attitude towards the students and the hostel life were the reasons for that. However, when I started working as a nurse, I realised the benefits of the ‘tough’ training,” Siseena recalls with a smile.
Siseena’s mother Annamma was a teacher. So, Siseena thought of taking a BEd degree after completing nursing. She soon registered for the BEd course at the Mananthavady centre of the Kannur University. After that, she cleared the entrance test to grab a seat for post-graduation in industrial fisheries at Cochin University of Science and Technology. She even worked as guest lecturer for almost two years. It was around this time that Siseena tied the knot. She had, meanwhile, applied for the post of PSC junior public health nurse at Kannur district. In 2005, she got the job and was appointed as a junior public health nurse at the Mayyil community health centre.
Siseena wished to study MA Sociology, a few years after joining the health service. She didn’t hesitate and went on to study MA Sociology at the University of Kerala. She then had her eyes set on qualifying the National Eligibility Test. Even though she didn’t qualify in the first chance, she worked hard. Siseena’s husband was working in Kollam. She, meanwhile, stayed back in Kannur with her kids and mother. She would get up early in the morning to study and scribble down notes. She would then study those notes on the bus on her way to the hospital where she worked. She even studied during the breaks. Finally, in 2013, she cracked not just NET but SET too. Now that she had qualified NET, she didn’t hide her desire to do research.
Overcoming the barriers
Muslim community were prominent in the area where she worked. So, she developed an interest to do research in the health and wellbeing of that community. As she worked as a nurse, she was able to collect lots of data related to the topic. However, when she approached a professor in the University of Kerala, not only did he refuse to be her guide, but he tried to discourage her too. But, the strong willed Siseena was determined to go ahead.
She enquired at her alma mater, Kannur University. The university didn’t have any research guides for Sociology at that time. Besides, the university provided guides only if the candidate had done post-graduation there. This was not the case in other universities. Siseena found out that the Anthropology department in the university offered a paper in Medical Sociology. She even found Dr. Bindu as a guide. But, as Siseena is a post graduate in Sociology, she couldn’t be guided by a professor from the Anthropology department. The professor promised to be her guide if she could do something to change this rule. So, Siseena sought advice from former MLA Prakashan master who was a syndicate member. He advised her to submit an application to the university syndicate. To her relief, the syndicate approved her application and allowed her join for the PhD program. Siseena soon began doing research in the subject ‘Social Attitude and Health Care Culture; A Study on Muslim Community in Kannur’.
Siseena’s mother suffered a stroke immediately after she joined for the PhD program. Seeing her take care of her mother while struggling hard to continue her studies, many tried to discourage and dissuade her. Siseena recalls that it was only the medical officer and the mass media officer of Kannur district who encouraged her. “Many tried to reproach me saying that I shouldn’t take up studies when I have a sick mother to take care of. Meanwhile, some others discouraged me by pointing out that I couldn’t achieve anything in the health department and that I was unnecessarily sacrificing my allotted leave and salary. So, they didn’t even bother to call or appreciate when I completed by PhD. Even when everyone tried to demotivate me, I had a strong desire to go ahead. Studying for the exams, waiting for the results and then looking for my marks in the website are all so thrilling for me. The eager waiting for the results and the joy that I feel when I see my results are just inexplicable experiences,” says Siseena.
Siseena’s daughter Raina, who studies at the Navodaya school, used to complain that her mother didn’t have time to spent with her whenever she came home for vacation. After the movie ‘Udaharanam Sujatha’ got released, Raina playfully called Siseena by that name. Siseena too would be busy studying and preparing notes when her kids studied. Whenever, Raina called her ‘Udaharanam Sujatha’, Siseena joked that she was studying to get her name printed as Dr. Siseena on Raina’s wedding invite. However, it was Raina who was the happiest when Siseena got PhD. She was so thrilled that she called their relatives and friends to share the great news that her mother has finally fulfilled her dream.
Amid all the joy and excitement, Siseena is upset that her dear mother is no more to see her achievements. She says that her mother never disturbed her while studying, even when she was bed ridden. “I was proud to be known as Annamma teacher’s daughter. Meanwhile, she was happy to tell everyone about my passion for studies. My mother is the only person who deserves the credit for my achievements and she would have been the happiest person on earth. When my mother was hospitalised, I would ask the nurses about the blood pressure readings and other details. They were surprised when I told them that I was a junior public health nurse. My mother would then explain how I had completed BEd, post graduation and was pursuing PhD. She was always proud to tell everyone about my educational qualifications. I am able to confidently say that I would have been a teacher had I not been a nurse only because I have seen how good a teacher my mother was. Now, I wish to do post-doctoral research if I get Dr. Bindu as my guide again,” Siseena reveals her plan.
This Nurses’ Day is quite special for Siseena as it has gifted her one of the most unique opportunities in her life. She is one of the speakers at the Global Nurses Meet that has been organised as part of the Nurses’ Day celebrations. She would be sharing her inspiring journey of becoming Dr. Siseena from a nurse. Meanwhile, her husband Raju and kids Raina and Saina are proud and happy watching Siseena scale the mount of success and determination.