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Lack of outdoor activities, delayed immunisation impacted children’s health during Covid, says this doctor

Dr Shweta Mhatre, an alumna of Apeejay Nerul, shares tips for parents to prevent obesity and other health issues in children

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Right from her school days, Dr Shweta Pradeep Mhatre, 27, has been passionate about learning. With many scholastic accomplishments to her credit, the Mumbai-based doctor, who has been associated with medicine for nearly a decade now, is an example of how perseverance and self-belief can do wonders in terms of achieving goals. Dr Mhatre, MBBS, MD Pediatrics, KEM Hospital, is now planning to pursue a super specialisation as well. In an interview, the Apeejay Nerul alumna takes us through her journey and shares important tips for parents to keep their kids healthy. Edited excerpts:

What influence did Apeejay School, Nerul, have on you? Tell us about your experience.

I studied at Apeejay Nerul for 14 years, right from nursery to class 12. I was always interested in academics, which was something that developed over the course of my time at the school. The academic programme, including the teachers at Apeejay, was very good. The kind of experiences we had at school were incomparable. I think it is still the best school in Navi Mumbai. Apart from academics, the school opened up opportunities for the students in extra-curricular activities. The focus was always on how to make a child develop holistically, with continuous monitoring of their growth. Apeejay Nerul played a major role in my overall development and shaped my personality in many ways. Thanks to social media, I am still in touch with many of the faculty members.

Did the teachers and the curriculum prepare you in any way for the medical entrance exam?

I topped my class 10 board exams in Navi Mumbai with 98 per cent. In class 12, I came second in the city with 96.8 per cent. I was the first girl to have topped Apeejay Nerul in both classes 10 and 12. In the 12th standard, there is usually a dilemma about whether one should concentrate more on the board exam or the competitive exams. The good thing about Apeejay was that the teachers taught us the concepts really well which, in a way, prepared us for the entrance tests. I particularly remember how our biology teacher Shakuntala ma’am’s classes helped me a lot in my preparation for the All India Pre-medical Test (AIPMT). I was able to clear the exam for Armed Forces Medical College (AFMC) with a rank of 37 and the AIPMT in my first attempt itself. In fact, thanks to the support of the teachers, there were a lot of students who managed to get admission into medicine or IIT while preparing for their board exams.

Did you always want to become a doctor?

I did not have any plan B. It was my childhood dream. Part of it was because I was fascinated with the profession, but it was also motivated by my intention to help people. The ability to be able to save lives was something that inspired me to become a doctor.

Why did you opt for pediatrics?

For me, it was essential to genuinely like and believe in what I am doing. As long as you choose a profession you like, you will dedicate yourself to it wholeheartedly. I realised if there was a branch where I would enjoy working for hours would be pediatrics. I like the positivity that kids have, they are full of life.

Tell us about your academic journey so far.

I got into MBBS in 2012 at Lokmanya Tilak Municipal Medical College and Sion Hospital in Mumbai. I got a gold medal in Biochemistry and passed with distinction in all the years. My five-and-a-half years of experience at Sion were very good. In 2018, I finished MBBS and appeared for NEET-PG entrance, and cleared it in the first attempt. I did my MD in Pediatrics from Seth GS Medical College and King Edward Memorial Hospital (KEM) in Mumbai. I got a gold medal in my MD exam as I topped Maharashtra University in Pediatrics. Currently, I am part of Senior Residency at KEM Hospital. I also appeared for the NEET Super Specialty entrance in January 2022. I secured rank 3 in Medical Genetics and rank 32 in Pediatric SubSpecialty. I am also planning to pursue a super specialisation in either neonatology, medical genetics, or pediatric oncology.

In the field of medicine, research is also very important. I have done two case reports which have been published in the Journal of Post Graduate Medicine and British Medical Journal. I think it is a good idea to publish papers during your foundation years.

Since it has been such a long journey of learning, what kept you motivated? Did you ever reach a point of breakdown?

I always make a plan of what my goals are and align my efforts accordingly. I keep a journal where I write down my goals, both professional and personal, and the ways to achieve them. Writing gives you a lot of clarity. More importantly, you need to believe in your abilities. Then, of course, you need a strong support system. Parents, friends, family members, colleagues, etc., play a very important role. Self-belief is one thing but when the people you love also believe in you, it is highly motivating.

At the same time, I feel all of us experience a breakdown at some point in our lives. In such cases, seek help from your close ones or, if necessary, from a therapist or a counsellor, who will help you think in a positive direction.

Can you share some advice for students planning to pursue MBBS?

Medicine is an evolving branch, which means the exam patterns have also changed. But the one thing that remains constant is the amount of sincerity, hard work, and persistence that one needs to crack it. When there is fierce competition, there is a possibility of not being able to get through the first time. But you need to be determined and not let failures bog you down. I feel that as long as you have learned something from an experience, it is not really a failure. Medicine requires a lot of ongoing education, so you have to make yourself mentally prepared for that. Now, people also go abroad to pursue medicine. So, remember that nothing is a hindrance; you can always try other options when something is not working out.

What impact did the pandemic have on children’s health? Did you observe any trends?

One of the things that children missed out on during the pandemic was timely immunisation, which is very important to keep preventable diseases at bay like diphtheria, tetanus, measles, etc. Many vaccination centres were shut due to the Covid lockdowns but now there is a lot of catch-up immunisation taking place as well. Besides, lack of outdoor activities also impacted children’s health. While being confined to their homes, they have spent a lot of time in front of the screen. There has been a rise in social anxiety and mental disorders in children because of the pandemic. They have also missed out on important medical investigations because of the pandemic-led restrictions.

Obesity in children is a rising problem. How can parents prevent it?

Given the pandemic, parents might still be skeptical about sending their children outdoors. Instead, they can get their children to do physical exercises and yoga at home. Certain outdoor activities that can be done solo, like cycling, can be continued. Any kind of physical activity for at least an hour a day is important. Second, limiting screen time is crucial to prevent your child from sitting for hours. Even if a child is doing online schooling, parents should encourage them to walk for at least two minutes every 30 minutes or one hour or contribute to some household chores. Another important factor is a healthy diet. Packaged and processed foods, and excess intake of sugar in the form of desserts should also be avoided. These practices need to be inculcated by parents and the best way to do it is to lead by example.

Any other tips to maintain children’s overall health?

Keep the child engaged as much as possible. Some play therapy and restricting screen time would be helpful. Have regular conversations with your child to know what they are thinking or feeling. Besides, children above the age of two should practise masking and wash their hands properly to prevent infection.

Disha Roy Choudhury is a Senior Correspondent at Apeejay Newsroom. She has worked as a journalist at different media organisations. She is also passionate about music and has participated in reality shows.

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