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Woman of the Year

Issue Date: June 16-30, 2011, Posted On: 6/20/2011

Woman of Year Sheth looks only to continued service

INDIA New England’s 2011 Woman of the Year Dr. Manju Sheth says she is honored by the award but hopes, more than anything, it will allow her to be even more effective in helping various community service organizations.
INDIA New England’s 2011 Woman of the Year Dr. Manju Sheth derives an immense sense of satisfaction in her numerous roles in the South Asian community. According to her, the Woman of the Year award — which she won on June 1 at a banquet ceremony at the Burlington Marriott — has already proved a vehicle for continued community service.

“I have my roots in India. I got my wings here,” said Lynnfield resident Sheth, who works as a primary care physician at Beverly Hospital. Those wings have carried her into several areas of community involvement.

Sheth serves as secretary for the Indian Medical Association of New England, as well as its cultural committee chair and serves as its Women’s Forum co-chair. Sheth is also an active member of the Asian Task Force Against Domestic Violence. 

Of these affiliations, it is her work with the medical association and working with women’s causes that that hold the most meaning for Sheth. “As a doctor, IMANE is closest to my heart,” she said, adding that Saheli is also at the top of that list.

A resiliency in meeting life’s challenges head on and an optimistic attitude become immediately evident when speaking with Sheth and has prepared her for the hard work that has led to her current success.

“If you don’t look at something as an obstacle it gets better,” she said. For instance, getting a medical education in India, which the government pays for, means there is much competition. “In those days, 23 years ago, you really had to be at the top of your game,” said Sheth.

That tenacity and a firm belief in destiny seep into almost every facet of Sheth’s life. “I’m really focused on what I’m doing. I don’t see something as a challenge, I see something as an adventure,” she said.

The Bhagavhad Gita holds words by which Sheth says she lives. Her favorite passage speaks to the power of an individual to handle life’s challenges: “Never before your time and never more than your destiny than you should get.”

Being involved in many organizations comes with the benefit of having a large network of friends and colleagues within the South Asian community that she can call on when needed, Sheth said. For example, she is able to connect people interested in becoming involved in community action with members of organizations to which she belongs.

Aside from putting in the hard work, Sheth deeply believes in keeping an open enough mind in order to take full advantage of what life has to offer. 

Sheth, a native of New Delhi, earned a medical degree from Kolkata National Medical College and did her training in internal medicine at England’s Royal Infirmary in Hull and a hospital affiliated with St. George’s in London. In 1997, Sheth finished more training in internal medicine at Salem Hospital in Massachusetts.

During her medical rise, she was faced with the decision of starting a family and beginning a practice in general medicine or entering into a time-consuming fellowship to pursue a specialty. Even though the fellowship may have led to a higher earning job down the road, motherhood trumped career ambition.

Sheth is glad to have won the Woman of the Year award because of the message that the accolade sends to the community, especially young women, she said. It also serves as a reminder of all the contributions women make from day to day. “As a woman you get a front row seat you see drama in everyone’s life,” Sheth said.

The recognition is also important because it comes from people in the same community sphere in which she works and lives, said Sheth. After getting the Woman of the Year award, over 600 people e-mailed Sheth to both congratulate her and ask how they could become involved in community service, she said. Sheth calls the goodwill she has seen from the wider community one of the best benefits that came along with her Woman of the Year title.

Sheth views herself as a “bridge” for anyone looking to make a difference but who may not immediately know how to go about it, she said. Using her Facebook page to reach out to everyone to post advice, Sheth advised people to find a cause closest to a person’s heart. “Find your passion and do it because you like it,” said Sheth.

The Women’s Forum is a cause of particular importance to Sheth because it provides women doctors an informal platform to discuss women’s issues of the day, such as how to juggle competing responsibilities of their home and work lives, according to Sheth.

That work, along with her other community commitments, keep Sheth on her toes. Many nights she is up well past putting her 13-year-oldd daughter Shaleen to bed at night, busy with phone conferences or putting together lectures.

 She estimates that she has at least one event every month of the year she attends as either a guest or participant.

Sheth said she has gleaned valuable lessons from her community involvement. She credits her affiliation with the Asian Task Force Against Domestic Violence with sharpening her ability to identify instances of physical abuse among her many female patients, she said. Women across the socio-economic spectrum, even the ones who appear to be in control of their lives, with high-powered jobs, suffer both physically and emotionally abuse at home, she added.

Sheth further sharpened skills she says make her a better doctor such as spotting signs of domestic abuse and depression among her patients by attending a five-hour domestic violence retreat in early June. “We need to become more vigilant as doctors” in being a woman’s first defense against domestic violence and depression, she said.

Sheth’s career in medicine began in India, where her mom first noticed her talent in biology class as a kid and recognized her daughter’s potential to be a doctor. She appreciated her mother’s gentle guidance toward a career in medicine, rather than insistence that her daughter choose one field over another.

“I think it’s very good that parents don’t push you but inspire you,” she said. 

As a mom, what Sheth calls her most important role, she also takes an easy approach with her daughter, choosing to lead by example.

So far, it appears Shaleen is following her mom’s example in community involvement. Shaleen recently accompanied her mom to a peace demonstration in Cambridge. And despite her daughter’s growing independence, Sheth says that as long as an event helps others, she can count on Shaleen to be at her side. The teenager even forewent birthday gifts this year, opting instead to donate the money to charity, said Sheth.
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