Assoc. Prof. Sumit Raniga: Beneath The Surface

"I believe my mentors have been instrumental to my success to date. There's been a few of them. If I have seen further, it’s because I have stood on the shoulders of giants. I am forever grateful for their influences on me."

Have you faced any great adversity in life?

I was born in the Fiji Islands in a town of 10,000 to 15,000 people. My parents never finished school due to many reasons. Only recently, after all these years, I’m actually learning that I probably had suffered from dyslexia. I was still trying to, or should I say struggling to just figure out how to work with this issue for the first half of my life. If I had lots of information on a page for example, I would be thrown off. I had to figure out different ways of thinking, working and honestly, because it was undiagnosed, there was no help at that time. It took me 20 odd years to work out how to use my brain and my intellectual ability to achieve my potential.

Every little thing required hard work. Eventually I got there, thanks to my four pillars for success – patience, perseverance, passion, and prayers. Passion is a key ingredient. It was just a matter of finding something I was passionate about. Then I was away, but it took a long time. So that’s why I ended up doing a Bachelor’s and Master’s, trying to figure out what really makes me tick. What allows me to really maximize my abilities to their fullest potential. 

There have been a lot of great achievers who’ve had Dyslexia, like Muhammad Ali for example, who’s one of my heroes. You listen to him articulate, he was a genius, he was a rapper before rap was born. And yet he had dyslexia. So that sort of thing inspired me. I was like, ‘Well, you know, if they can do it, I can do it.’ So, in terms of context, where you come from has a huge influence on where you go. I certainly was not one of those silver spoon kids, everything was a struggle. Something clicked in my twenties where I never looked back. I believe that I started mastering the science of liberating success from coincidence and the rest is history.

“I certainly was not one of those silver spoon kids, everything was a struggle.”

I have suffered many knockbacks and multiple failures in my life, but I believe that you can’t let your failures define you – you must let your failures guide you. It’s because I have failed over and over again – that’s why I have achieved some success now. At the end of the day, if you are truly passionate about something you will find a way, otherwise you will find an excuse.

What is your biggest regret?

I don’t actually have any genuine regrets. I actually think that every poor decision or failure that I’ve had, has led to a success later. For example, I applied for The Auckland School of Medicine after my Master’s degree. I was a top level cricketer. I used to teach in the medical school, I had outstanding and prominent referees as well as first class honors and a patent from my research, but after a 10 minute interview somehow I didn’t get in. I was devastated. Within months of this disappointment I was in Philadelphia, working in a world class lab developing the first ever gene therapy clinical trial for Parkinson’s. So every single failure has led to a greater success. 

I have learnt that the universe always conspires to help you if your heart and mind is in the right place. I think you just need to accept that. Okay, this is just the way it is. Let’s see what happens next. So, I don’t have many regrets. I have been very lucky to have some amazing mentors, And one in particular, was a Professor Frank Frizelle, who is an outstanding colorectal surgeon in Christchurch, New Zealand. When I was a fourth year medical student, he took me under his wing. We  published five papers, including a randomised control trial by the time I was a first year intern. It was all said and done, I was going to do colorectal surgery. However, I chose Orthopaedics. I do sometimes think about what it would have been like if we had continued working together.

When are you most happy?

I love my work, this concept of work life balance is quite fascinating. I don’t believe in it. I think that there are a lot of people out there for whom work is what they do between holidays. I’m definitely not one of them. I love my work. I honestly feel that I probably stopped working about a year ago. What I mean is that everything I do – seeing patients, operating, research and teaching is a real privilege, gives me great satisfaction and brings me joy. My whole practice is based on the ethos “knowledge that empowers and expertise that liberates”. 

“My life mantra is to live as if you were to die tomorrow, but learn as if you were to live forever.”

When it comes to my research, we’re just doing amazing things in our lab. It’s so liberating to explore new ideas and be creative through science. And I feel humbled to be in an environment full of these brilliant minds that work with me. We design studies to answer important questions, and within a month or two, we are carrying out the experiments! Then we have the opportunity to present the results to my colleagues and peers around the world. Seeing how we can make a positive difference and drive paradigm shifts? So, I feel that I’ve got a dream job. My life mantra is to live as if you were to die tomorrow, but learn as if you were too live forever. (Mahatma Gandhi). 

What is your greatest achievement?

I am hoping that the great achievements are still to come. Because I feel that all of the things that have happened in my life to date are leading up to something that’s still coming. To date, though. Getting first class honors in my Masters in Molecular Medicine was a big deal. It helped me believe. Then the next step was as simple as getting to medical school, because it was such a hurdle. I remember going into The Auckland School of Medicine after my Bachelor’s and to discuss applying for medical school and the admissions lady actually laughing at me. Getting in was a big deal. It really reaffirmed that, okay, things are possible, you just got to really put your mind to it. Then obviously, getting on the Orthopaedic Surgical Training Programme.

But my fellowship in Switzerland, working with Professor Matthias Zumstein and winning the Charles Neer Award in 2016 was probably one of the greatest achievements to date. This is the highest honor in the field of shoulder and elbow surgery in the world. I was just at the right place at the right time. I had a background in Molecular Medicine which was relevant to the research study. I wrote the manuscript over 16 straight days putting in 12-16 hour days and it won the award. 

What is the best thing about shoulder and elbow surgery?

I think the best thing about shoulder and elbow surgery is the complex and intricate anatomy of the shoulder and elbow with its biomechanical manifestations. There’s a lot we need to learn. And that’s exciting. Immense potential for research. As surgeons, we have arthroscopic interventions, open procedures, and also arthroplasty procedures to help improve our patients lives. We serve everyone from 10 year olds to 90 year olds, treat degenerative disease, acute trauma, and sports injuries. So, plenty to keep you interested. I personally don’t believe that all aspects of shoulder and elbow surgery should be done by everyone. I think that it’s a true sub-speciality. There are aspects of shoulder and elbow practice that certainly require fellowship training. I have learnt that giving yourself wholeheartedly to a subspeciality, you can have an enormous impact. Doing one job really well is better than doing several not as well. But I do appreciate that this is not possible for everyone and in every situation.

The shoulder allows the hand to function in space. There’s no other joint in the body that affords such a remarkable symphony of movement. It’s like a golf ball sitting on a golf tee, sitting on a surfboard – a highly unconstrained biomechanical environment that’s reliant on such a fine balance of the bones, ligaments, muscles and tendons under complex neuromuscular control. That’s why I love it.

Who has had the greatest influence on your life?

At a personal level, I’m quite philosophical. I subscribe to the Vedantic philosophy, which is the philosophical basis of Hinduism and Buddhism. Spirituality is a big part of my life. I was deeply influenced by Hindu monks from the age of four or five. I spent a lot of my youth amongst them in Ashrams. These interactions really left an indelible mark on my character. One important philosophical paradigm in my life is the law of Karma, which is the same as Newton’s third law of motion, every action has a reaction. So, every thought, every word I say, the way I interact with you, or anyone, for that matter, I’m accountable for. I am accountable for all my thoughts and actions. So that means that I must take responsibility for the things that happen in my life. If I do something wrong now, or if I hurt someone, or if I speak impolitely to you, I will be accountable in the next 5 minutes, 10 minutes, 20 years, or the next life. So this remains a significant influence on my life and the way I live. 

I believe my mentors have been instrumental to my success to date. There’s been a few of them. If I have seen further, it’s because I have stood on the shoulders of giants. I am forever grateful for their influences on me.

Read more – Beneath The Surface – Click here

Visit Assoc. Prof. Sumit Raniga’s website here

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