Dr. Swaraj Rajbhandari grew-up in Kathmandu with her grandmother. She has 2 younger sisters, and one younger brother who grew up with their parents. She is married to Mohan Man Rajbhandari and has one daughter, Sneh Rajbhandari. She has led an inspiring, atypical and adventurous life. She has always been an important figure in the Nepali medical fraternity. From a young age, she knew she wanted to become a doctor, “Those days either you become a doctor or an engineer.” She said. Her choice of becoming a doctor was influenced by her grandmother as well, “My grandmother became a widow at age 24, and she had a very difficult life so she always encouraged me to be economically independent. She’s the one who guided me and my other siblings to take higher education. She had a huge impact on me and although she never went to school, she was very smart.”
Initially, Dr. Swaraj worked for 14 years as an obstetrician gynecologist at the Maternity Hospital in Kathmandu, but her life took another turn in 1994 when the USAID (United States Agency for International Development) wanted her help, “They had a project to start ambulatory reproductive health services. They wanted me to establish a centre.” Because of her interest, she got involved in the training and went to different places. She was doing public health work along with clinical work. In 1995, she became an international trainer. Since then, she has trained people to be trainers as well. In 1999, she went to Johns Hopkins University to do her Master in Public health and worked for 2 years in the US after that. She started to do international work with the JHPIEGO (The Johns Hopkins Program for International Education in Gynecology and Obstetrics). It was an opportunity that allowed her to work in various countries like Indonesia, Malawi, and Jamaica for example. In 2002, she returned to work in Nepal and 5 years later she travelled back and forth working in Cambodia, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Myanmar, Fiji, Lao and many other countries as a consultancy.
She always had a special connection with the country of Pakistan. She was graduated from Dow medical college and her post-graduation was from College of Physicians and Surgeons, both in Karachi, Pakistan. After that she spent 5 nights in a private hospital to earn money in order to study, and two 2 nights with her regular hospital work to complete the requirement.
She also shares a very good memory of Afghanistan, “It was very scary. You never knew which day you could go out or not and there was always security going with us. It was very challenging but they were in need of trainings and teachings as they didn’t have much skilled human resources, so I was given an opportunity to train them thrice.”
She also adds from her 4 years experience in Cambodia, “When you live in a place for a long time that’s when you see fruitful outcomes.” It’s difficult to summarize her experiences in so many countries but her successful career explains the independent, strong and brilliant women that she is today. There is a real reward for her hard work, discipline and dedication.
Today, Dr. Swaraj enjoys life to the fullest. She travels as much as she can with her daughter, “Usually we plan at least one or two travel a year. Last year it was in Brazil. I have a bucket list and she does as well.” Dr. Swaraj also feels more independent and has more time to take care of herself, “I think after the age of 50, you have achieved what you wanted to achieve in life. I can take care of myself, my health. I can fulfill all my dreams; do whatever I want to do. I learnt salsa when my daughter went to college because I had nothing to do in the evening.” She also wants to stay active, “Even now people ask me if I’m retired and I say no. I’m still energetic and working. Age is just a number to me.” Still today, she is willing to work more for the community, the needy voluntarily. “I work in a private hospital and give voluntary services when free. I want to continue to give back to the community and help the needy. I’m back to focusing on working in Nepal now.”
To say Dr. Rajbhandari is an exceptional woman, is still less.