Dr. Sandeep Chhatwal, an internal medicine and general physician from Chandigarh, says he knew he wanted to become a doctor when he was a little more than three years of age, but he kept that awareness close to his heart, lest he become a butt of ridicule. “I always knew I wanted to become a doctor, but I didn’t reveal it to anyone, I just worked towards that goal silently all my early life,” says Dr Chhatwal. Today he is not only a highly-regarded doctor but also an avid photographer who can put many professionals to shame.
Becoming a doctor
The doctor, who has always been very attached to his parents, especially his mother, was shaken by an incident that took place one night when he was just about three years old. “My mother who is an asthmatic, had a severe attack in the middle of the night, and my father, my two siblings and I rushed her to a hospital in Chandigarh,” says Chhatwal. While his father ran around the hospital running errands and getting medication for his mother, his elder sibling looked after his younger sibling, and Chhatwal was left alone with his mother in the emergency ward. “That night I saw so many traumatic incidents taking place around me that it left an indelible impression on my young mind,” says Chhatwal. “Furthermore, I felt so helpless siting there with my mother, I made a resolve to become a doctor and take care of my parents whenever they are afflicted with any health issue,” says the doctor.
The Medical Journey
When the time came to make the transition and pursue his medical education, Chhatwal faced a lot of criticism from his father and brother, who attempted to dissuade him from joining the profession. “They worried for me, said the profession is quite stressful and appealed to me to look into becoming an engineer like them. Since both my father and my elder brother were engineers, they were skeptical of the medical profession and thought it would be easier for me to just join their career path,” says Chhatwal.
However, resolute in his decision, Chhatwal pursued his education in Medicine, completing his MBBS from Christian Medical College and Hospital in Ludhiana and his MD from Government Medical College in Patiala. He even did a short stint working as a physician for the Chief Minister for Punjab. “It was for three years and I got a little disenchanted with government job so I left,” says the doctor. Chhatwal felt he was not able to work to his full potential as a government doctor, because he was often tied with auxiliary work, so he decided to shift to private practice. “In private practice I can completely and intellectually engage myself with my work, which I couldn’t do working for the government,” he adds.
Chhatwal was always curious to engage with new fields. Being a nature lover, he found himself drawn to photography in his spare time. “I began indulging in photography, specifically nature photography in my 30s. I was an amateur in the beginning but am now quite pleased with my shoots,” says Chhatwal. One day, while a patient was sitting inside his room at the clinic, a few photos that had just been developed were delivered to his office. Chhatwal excused himself, curious to see how the pictures came out, he laid them on his table and examined them in his office. “I was proud of my work and asked the patient sitting in front of me what he thought of them, hoping he would compliment me, but to my shock, the patient said the photographs were rubbish,” says Chhatwal. “I couldn’t believe that someone could be so candid and rude with their doctor, but later realised that he was a professional photographer and had been the president of the National Photography Society,” says the doctor.
Since that encounter with the patient, Chhatwal took a few photography lessons from the professional photographer and honed his hobby. “Soon, I started entering my photographs in competitions. A few times my photos won prizes at local events such as the Rose Garden festival and some of my photos were selected by nature magazines,” says Chhatwal, who slowly and steadily became a more confident photographer.
But more recently, Chhatwal has been finding his purpose outside of his professional life in philanthropy. “I began philanthropic work in 2005, initiated into it by my family and my elders, who had always believed in giving back to society,” says the doctor. His NGO ‘Nanhi Jaan’ that he set up in 2010, focuses on providing education and healthcare to underprivileged children in the city. Apart from donating incubators and ventilators to hospitals in the city such as the Government Multi-Specialty Hospital in Sector 16 and the Post Graduate Institute of Medical Education and Research, the organization supports underprivileged children in receiving proper healthcare and medication.
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