Dr. Vijayalakshmi Deshmane – Journey from selling vegetables to become a reputed oncologist

dr vijayalakshmi deshmane

The medical profession is fast transforming into a profit making industry where the wellness of patients has become the least priority. The ethical implications of the growing commercialization of health care have become a matter of heated controversy. However, every field has its own exceptions and one such exception in the healthcare service is India’s most reputed oncologist, Vice President of Karnataka Cancer Society, and a recipient of many awards, Dr. Vijayalakshmi Deshmane.

Born in one of the most backward castes, whose people are supposed to be stitching used footwear, Dr. Vijayalakshmi Deshmane was raised in a Gulbarga slum. Her father Baburao Deshmane worked in the MSK Mill and her mother used to sell vegetables in a small shop. Dr. Vijayalaksmi, who has six sisters and a brother, used to help her mother selling vegetables. Getting a single meal per day was a challenge for the family and affording basic amenities was a dream.

Father Baburao was influenced by the freedom movement and believed in the empowerment of all. Though he was not formally educated, he broke caste professional barriers and learnt letters on his own- Kannada, Marathi, Hindi and English. Her father had a dream of getting Vijayalakshmi into medicine and to serve the poorest of the poor, but the poverty was the main constraint. Such a dream of her father is really surprising as even a middle class will think twice before paying MBBS fee.

Those days, only boys would be sent to school, but my father insisted my sisters and I attended classes. This was unthinkable for a Dalit family in the backward region of Gulbarga. We had only dreamt of doing well in life.

Dr. Vijayalakshmi Deshmane was a bright student and her dream to become a doctor began when she excelled in 12th exams. She knew that paying MBBS fee is not a cup of tea for her parents. However, her parents played vital role in shaping her career. Dr. Vijayalakshmi’s mother sold her only gold ornament, her Mangal sutra to avail a loan to help Vijaylaxmi in her MBBS entrance exam. This was the turning point in Dr. Vijayalakshmi Deshmane’s life and the start of her career.

I remember that moonless night when my mother gave away her only ornament, her Mangal Sutra, to my father so that he could take a loan for my MBBS entrance at KMC Hubli. I am what I am today because of the sacrifices made by my parents and siblings. Can I ever pay them back??? I don’t think so!

She failed in the first year of MBBS exams due to the language barrier. She had no sound knowledge of English and the MBBS course demanded English. Although Dr. Vijayalakshmi Deshmane understood the lectures, she faced trouble in answering the papers of her exams in English. However, she is thankful to her professors who gave her 2nd chance and then she never looked back. No journey is a happy one. There are times when we have to fall down in order to stand up. Dr. Vijayalakshmi Deshmane had to deal with a lot of difficulties to overcome her struggle. She made her parents proud by getting the first rank in her university.

Specialized in the treatment of breast cancer, Dr. Vijayalakshmi Deshmane completed her MBBS at Karnataka Medical College, Hubli in 1980 and did her MS at Bellary in 1983. She believed in constant learning and often tried to update her knowledge. Dr. Vijayalakshmi Deshmane interacts with patients to know more and more about their medical history.

She is simple, but with high thinking, who wants to do something good for the society. She believes in God and thinks that it is by the grace of Him what she is today. Throughout her career, she has been very lucky to have got guidance, support, and love from her peers and patients.

I feel I am just the ‘nimitta’ (reason) here. I’ve been shaped by my Gurus, raised by my peers, loved by my patients, and it is His willing that I am in this profession that saves and serves the society.

Dr. Vijayalakshmi Deshmane retired in 2015, but now she provides a free service at the Karnataka Cancer Society. She has been a part of numerous social drives, reach out, awareness camps, research works, and education programs in the villages. Dr Vijayalakshmi thinks her service as a healthcare provider is half done and hence has decided to dedicate 15 days in a month for these social activities and rest 15 days she would be providing a free service and be available in the Karnataka Cancer Society.

As Joel Barker said ‘Vision without action is merely a dream. Action without vision just passes the time. Vision with action can change the world.’ Her father’s dream and vision brought her out of the slum; power of learning, love for her profession and dedication brought her where she is today! Dr. Vijayalakshmi Deshmane’s incredible journey of personal and social transformation, from a childhood, selling vegetables to being a leading breast cancer specialist is truly inspiring.



Image credit: event

Kakoli Mahanta

A post graduate in Economics, Kakoli Partha Mahanta worked for corporate finance sector for about 7 years. Mother of a cute 2 year baby girl, Kakoli is currently located in Bangalore, India, flourishing her writing skill.

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