Alumni profile - Dr Daminda Attanayake
I have been the Team Physician to National Hockey and Netball teams and the Contingent Doctor for the Commonwealth Games 2018 in Australia. I am currently working as the Chief Medical Officer to the Sri Lanka Cricket team and as the medical representative to the International Cricket Council from Sri Lanka.
Why did you study your Masters in Sports and Exercise Medicine at Barts and The London? What sparked your interest in this specific degree? I started inquiring about post graduate qualifications in the field of Sports and Exercise Medical Sciences (SEM) from people I already knew who had studied in the field and found this course from Barts and The London, which has a long history, is reliable and accepts students from the Sri Lanka Medical Council.
What aspects of your degree did you find most enjoyable? What modules did you like learning about and was there anything that surprised you in your studies? Clinics around London were the most enjoyable aspects of my degree as they involved testing someone’s physical fitness according to their age, gender and level of involvement in sports etc. This was very beneficial to my later work as a team physician. I found Exercise Physiology to be the most interesting module – it is all about how the human body functions and how it changes and adapts when a person engages in sports and exercise, both in the short and the long term.
Why did you choose to study at Barts and The London in particular? The MSc in SEM from Barts and The London is the most widespread among colleagues in the field of SEM around the world – so I chose Barts for its teaching excellence and global reputation. In addition, Sri Lanka does not offer an MSc in SEM so I therefore had to leave my country to study.
Can you describe your career path up to date and touch on your current role? After completing my degree, I worked at the Institute of Sports Medicine (ISM) – Ministry of Sports Sri Lanka as their pre-intern medical officer. As a former National level athlete myself (in Table Tennis), I had developed a strong interest in this field and profession way before my studies. After completing my internship I returned to ISM as a Sports Medicine Medical Officer and as a Team Physician to the National Netball, Table Tennis and Gymnastic teams.
My MSc from Barts and The London has widened the areas within which I can work. Since graduating, I have further been the Team Physician to National Hockey and Netball teams and the Contingent Doctor for the Commonwealth Games 2018 in Australia. I am currently working as the Chief Medical Officer to the Sri Lanka Cricket team and as the medical representative to the International Cricket Council from Sri Lanka. Visiting lecturer at the University of Sri Jayewardenepura and General Sir John Kotelawala Defence University and Member of the National Guideline for Physical Activity and Sedentary Behaviour Development Committee are some of the other responsibilities I currently hold.
I understand that you were recently asked to speak to the captains of Sri Lankan cricket teams about their return to the game following the ongoing pandemic. What words did you share with the team? Like anyone else, the players were so curious to know the real situation of the coronavirus pandemic rather than listening to what was being said in the media. The team asked lots of questions in order to understand what would happen to their positions as players in the future and also what the pandemic will mean for the future of cricket.
It felt nice to be able to clear up all of their queries and to dispel myths and help them feel confident to return to the game. Words shared covered the following: what is a pandemic, what is COVID 19, what is the “new normal” and for how long will this “new normal” last, and how to resume Cricket while mitigating the risk of infection.
What is the mood amongst the team? The team agreed to resume cricket according to the “national guidelines on return to sports during COVID 19”, which shows that they have some trust in what was delivered to them and that they are keen to play again. We have now managed to complete two residential camps successfully.
How has the ongoing pandemic impacted your work? I have gained lots of extra responsibilities. Formulating guidelines is extra challenging now as we need to consider so many different aspects – some that we have never come across before - and work is stressful when you are unable to give a clear picture of the situation to the ones who trust you.
You are internationally based in Sri Lanka, how did you find the experience of living and studying in another country? As an International student, it was very challenging due to a new environment (I was staying in the University accommodation Floyer), new people, and a new system of education. But overall, it was a very novel and pleasant experience living and studying in such a multicultural environment.
Stereotypically speaking, a large proportion of medics who pursue careers in Sports and Exercise industries tend to be male. Why would you encourage more female medics, like yourself, to pursue a career in Sports and Exercise industries? Yes this is true, even in my workplace I am the only female. SEM is a very challenging field which requires a vast range of knowledge. Basic knowledge of all the specialities is essential, because initial management of any medical or surgical injuries (other than musculoskeletal injuries) has to be done by us before referring the patient to the relevant specialist. In my country, there is even more responsibility compared to in more developed countries because of the culture. Female athletes are reluctant to open up about their issues to a male doctor, therefore most of the time female athletes seek a female team physician like myself.
SEM is a very good field for females to enter into as the number of female athletes are significantly increasing and their specific problems and situations could be better understood by a female rather than a male and they might also be more comfortable being treated by a female. As I mentioned earlier this situation is more pertaining to countries like mine.
Is there any advice you would give to current SEM students considering their career options? The clinics that the MSc program have designed and which are mandatory are really helpful. I would suggest that current SEM students do not miss these clinics and that they do some extra voluntary work while studying. This will allow them to choose which area they would like to continue with once they graduate as they would have gained so much more knowledge and experience.
What was so special about your time at Barts and The London? Meeting not only locals but other nationals and sharing their cultures, views and experiences; the clinics we had to follow; visits to all of the main sporting stadiums and meeting and being taught by experienced lecturers who have worked/are currently working with famous athletes.
Do you play or follow any sports and did you attend any sporting events whilst you were in London? Yes, I am a table tennis player myself; I participated in the TT club during my time at Barts and The London in between my daily workouts at Q-motion. I also followed Arsenal football club and watched some of their home matches, as well as keeping up with the 2012 Olympics which took place during my time studying and living in London.