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All the Possibilities Are Within

From farm boy in Guyana to successful physician in America: Dr. Vishnu Seodat ’79

by Janee Law '14

in focus vishnu seodat main

Vishnu Seodat ’79, M.D. (Photo by Robert Amsler)

Born in an underdeveloped country, Vishnu Seodat ’79, M.D., embarked on a journey to America, fulfilling his dream of becoming a doctor. Seodat emigrated from the South American nation of Guyana to the United States in 1973, when he was 24 years old.

From his home in Mattituck, Long Island, where he lives with his wife and youngest son, Seodat looks back on the childhood that shaped who he is today.

“I grew up in a rural neighborhood, and it was tough,” Seodat says. After his parents separated when he was 2 years old, his mother raised him and his five siblings on her own. “We went to elementary school in a village, and we were quite poor because we had only my mom, who was a farmer and a day laborer.” Even with her courageous effort, Seodat explains that he and his siblings had to assist in maintaining the farm.

“In the mornings, we took care of the cattle, went to school, and then after, we’d go back on the farm,” he says. “Then, we would shower, have dinner, practice religion and do our homework. We had no electricity and no furniture so we read on the floor, using a lamp that was powered by kerosene.”

Living every day with this routine, Seodat’s inspiration to become a doctor was reaffirmed when he was 10 years old. After a rainy day, he had got pneumonia and was aided by the village doctor.

“Here, this guy came into my life, provided good medical care and I got better,” he said. “I thought he was a great man, so kind and compassionate and I thought, ‘this is what I want to do, this is my dream.’”

From operating on his sister’s dolls to patching up an injured leg on the cows and chickens, Seodat clung to his passion. Money was a constant struggle, so after he attended high school for a year and received his diploma, Seodat took the general certificate examination, allowing him to apply for a job.

“But I was 15 years old at the time and too young to apply at a hospital. So I continued to study, work the farm and got a job as a teacher when I was 17,” he says. “My mom prayed very fervently that I should get my wish and through that recognition, through God’s graces, my determination and bullish attitude, I wasn’t going to give up. I had to be somebody.” After teaching for a year, Seodat got the opportunity to pursue a medical position.

“I went for the interview and got accepted, so I quit my teaching job at 18 and started nursing,” he says. “I finished the three-year hospital based program and, after I graduated, I took my licensing exam.”

With this progress, Seodat wanted to extend his expertise, so he took the opportunity to come to America.

“If you had your nursing degree, a job in Guyana and a certification, you could get to the United States,” Seodat says. “So that was my ticket out. I had to come and work here to create myself and fulfill my desire.

“But I couldn’t get a visa until I passed the foreign exams and got accepted by a hospital that was willing to have me work as a graduate nurse. So I did all of that and went into the American embassy. Then, they called me for an interview and I presented my papers and based on those merits and my eligibility to work, they granted me this visa to come to America.”

After arriving in the States with his wife and 1-year-old son, it took him three months to get a hospital-based job.

“I got a job at Downstate [Medical Center, in Brooklyn], in one of their alcohol detox units and then I finally got a job in a hospital as a nurse,” Seodat says. During this time, he enrolled in Farmingdale State College.

“I got a sense of what college was like and I did OK,” he continues. “I was working full-time and applied as a full-time student. Whatever the maximum was, I did it.”

The next stop on his journey was St. Joseph’s College’s Long Island Campus.

“I didn’t come into the school as structured as it is now,” Seodat says. “They had classrooms in various places because they were just starting this campus.”

Within a year, he had completed a B.S. in Health Care Administration. Seodat continued his journey, attending medical school, completing his residency at Southside Hospital in Bay Shore and passing his board exams. He eventually became the hospital’s chief resident, and developed an award-winning alcohol detox and rehab unit. He also served as an assistant clinical professor for family practice residency at Southside from 1988 to 1989, while also working at Brunswick Hospital in Amityville.

“In ’88, I started my private practice in Mattituck and then moved out to Riverhead,” he says. As his private practice in family medicine grew, Seodat also served as president of medical and dental staff at the Peconic Bay Medical Center in Riverhead. Throughout the years, his peers and the community recognized his hard work and dedication, and Seodat was named Peconic Bay’s Physician of the Year in 2005. Now, he is involved in the newly established School of Medicine and Health Sciences at St. Helen University in Saint Lucia, where he serves as head of preclinical & clinical studies and as a member of the school’s curriculum committee.

“This medical school is at the beginning and we are taking the opportunity to introduce the school to the graduates at St. Joseph’s so they can go there and become doctors,” Seodat says. With developing the medical school and owning a private practice in Riverhead as a family practitioner, Seodat hopes that he can return to his country in the future.

“I got the chance to fulfill my dream as a physician, and now my vision is to give back to the people of Guyana,” he says. “So, for the kids who want to be somebody, all the possibilities are within. If you have that fire, that burning desire, keep that passion inside, and you can make anything happen.”

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