Lives of the fellows

Donald Nandasiri Atukorala

b.22 November 1940 d.9 January 2015
MB BS Ceylon(1964) MRCP(1973) FRCP(1988)

Donald Nandasiri Atukorala was the doyen of Sri Lankan dermatology, with a career which spanned over five decades. His father, Anura Sarathchandra Wiyethileka Atukorala, died young, so he was brought up with great courage and determination by his mother, Permawathie Atukorala. He was educated at St Thomas’ College Mount Lavinia, a leading private school, where he excelled in his studies and won the Bishop’s scholarship, which entitled him to free education.

He graduated from the University of Ceylon in 1964. After completing an internship at the General Hospital, Colombo, he worked for a few years at the Base Hospital, Avissawella, and the Chest Hospital, Welisara. In 1968 he was appointed as a medical officer to the dermatology unit, General Hospital, Colombo. At that time the country was extremely short of dermatologists and, with a few years’ experience, Atukorala had to cover the dermatological services of Jaffna, capital of the northern province of Sri Lanka.

Having won a Commonwealth scholarship, he proceeded to the UK for postgraduate training in 1971 at the prestigious St John’s Institute of Dermatology, London. In the final examination of the diploma in dermatology he secured first place, winning the coveted Chesterfield gold medal. During his stay in the UK he also gained his MRCP.

On his return to Sri Lanka in 1973, a mammoth task awaited him. There was a severe shortage of dermatologists. He was appointed as the consultant dermatologist to the General Hospital, Galle, where he organised the dermatology unit in a short period. It was the only hospital that provided dermatological care to the entire southern province. Subsequently, he established units in Colombo South and Colombo North. It was not an easy task and he had to face many challenges in the process. His unwavering commitment and sheer perseverance prevailed over the many obstacles to establishing dermatological services in the country.

Soon he became well-known in Sri Lanka, with people from all walks of life and from all over the island seeking his services. His sharp clinical acumen and empathetic attitude made him an immensely popular clinician. Even in a crowded clinic he never lost his cool, composed nature. It was a delight to watch him interacting with patients. He was quick yet thorough. He received many referrals and his replies were clear, focused and educative.

He had an inborn passion for teaching. His lucid lectures were always well attended. Generations of medical students greatly appreciated his teaching prowess. He made a lasting contribution towards postgraduate medical education in Sri Lanka. When the local Postgraduate Institute of Medicine was established in 1981, he held a key position as secretary of the board of study in medicine. When, in 1995, a separate board of study was established for dermatology, Atukorala was the unanimous choice to be the founder chairperson. He played a pivotal role in planning and implementing the current postgraduate training programme in dermatology. He was an exemplary trainer who left an indelible mark on the minds of his trainees. He had a reputation as a fair and unbiased examiner.

He was a pioneer of dermatological research in Sri Lanka and published many papers on skin disease patterns, leprosy, contact dermatitis and atopic dermatitis. He was instrumental in including research methodology into the postgraduate training curriculum. He delivered lectures on research and enthusiastically undertook the evaluation of many research projects.

Atukorala’s untiring efforts greatly contributed to the development of the Sri Lanka College of Dermatologists (SLCD). When it was established in 1985, he was the founder secretary. Subsequently, he became president. For a long period, he was the editor of the Sri Lanka Journal of Dermatology, published by the College. In 2000, as the inaugural SLCD orator, he delivered an excellent oration based on his 32 years’ experience in dermatology. When the SLCD hosted international meetings he was the popular choice to head the scientific committee; the most memorable were joint meetings with the Dowling Club (from the UK), the German Dermatological Society and the South Asian Regional Association of Dermatologists. He was an honorary fellow of the SLCD and, in 2014, he was presented with a lifetime achievement award by the College. (To date, he remains the sole recipient of this prestigious award.)

His talents were not confined to dermatology. He brought much recognition to dermatology by his active interaction with other professional bodies in medicine. He was an active member of the Sri Lanka Medical Association (SLMA), the umbrella body for all the medical associations in the country. As secretary of the SLMA, he shouldered the colossal task of organising its centenary celebrations in 1987. In 1998 he became president of the SLMA. He was a fellow of the Ceylon College of Physicians and was appointed as its president in 1989.

The final 12 years of his state service were spent at the National Hospital of Sri Lanka, Colombo, until his retirement in 2000, however, he continued to play an active role in the Sri Lanka College of Dermatology and the board of study, and served as an honorary consultant to an anti-leprosy campaign.

Although he was a busy consultant, he found time for social service, as exemplified by his involvement with the Saukyadana movement, a voluntary organisation dedicated to first aid and health education. For several years he was the president of Saukyadana and travelled extensively around the country, spearheading the health educational programme.

The medical fraternity in Sri Lanka remembers him as a dermatologist par excellence, who brought much recognition to the specialty. Whatever positions he was appointed to he held with distinction. Patients remember him as a caring and dedicated clinician who would do anything to help them.

Above all, he was a family man who enjoyed a simple life. His humane qualities endeared him to all. He was survived by his wife Anoja Prabhawathie, his son, Jayath, daughter, Uvini, and two grandsons.

Ganga Sirimanna
Chalukya Gunasekera
Antoinette Perera

(Volume XII, page web)

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