The Young and the Powerful - Pragna Surapaneni

How does a strong, successful, and young woman navigate her passion, studies, and life in a world that still feels uncomfortable with strong women? Pragna Surapaneni is all that and more. In this exclusive interview, we spoke to Pragna who is now studying to be a dermatologist. The vivacious and talented 20-something shares her stories, talks about what led her to pursue a career in dermatology and her passion — Kuchipudi dance.

Your mother, Dr Padmavathi Surapaneni, is a dermatologist, so was it assumed you’d follow her footsteps?
My parents have always been my biggest inspiration, but dermatology was never the plan. In fact, as an undergraduate, I understood very little of it. All this changed while I was an intern in Hyderabad, where I closely saw my mom work, and I began to truly appreciate what she did and made me realize that my calling lay with dermatology after all!
You’re also a trained Kuchipudi dancer.

How have you been able to strike a balance between your studies and dancing?
Dance has been an integral part of my life from a very young age. It is my biggest stress-buster and helps me stay focused and fit. Some of my happiest memories are from the time I rehearsed and performed for shows under the skilful guidance of my guru Smt Deepika Reddy. I am eagerly looking forward to going back to dance class once I move back to Hyderabad!

The pandemic has affected nearly every industry and people. How has it affected you?
I think it has changed our perspective towards things that we value in our lives. The pandemic allowed me to spend more time with the people that are closest to me, and I’m very thankful that all my friends and family who contracted the virus made a healthy recovery. My heart goes out to the people who lost their loved ones in the last two years, and I hope they only grow in strength from their hardships. With the massive vaccination drives against COVID-19 being done in India as well as globally, I hope to see some semblance of normalcy coming back to us. As a doctor though, I was no exception, having to juggle my speciality with covid related duties. But as they say, no one loses when we save lives!

What do you wish most people understood about your job? 
To have great skin requires not only a good dermatologist but also commitment and time. I think most people assume Dermatology includes only aesthetics, but we also deal with a huge number of chronic skin conditions, and it is a rewarding endeavour to treat and help people suffering from them.

What are some of the significant challenges associated with dermatology training in India?
Today, dermatology is one of the most sought after branches in medicine but residency positions available are very few. But once you make it past the entrance exams, it is a great speciality with a million opportunities.

Has the way that you think about beauty changed in the pandemic, and how so?
For me, beauty is about being confident and comfortable with yourself, and that thought has only grown stronger through the pandemic. I think I have and always will recommend someone to invest time and money in good skincare than in the best make-up. Beauty can’t be defined without health, and no amount of make-up can give you the charisma of a healthy glow!

Do you think of beauty as self-care?
Definitely! It’s like how they say, ‘it’s not about the cards you’re dealt, but how you play the hand.’ Some people may be blessed with great genes, but self-care is important for everybody. By the end of the day, nobody is going to take care of your mind and body if you don’t!

If you could only use one product for the rest of your life, what would it be?
I don’t think I can ever choose one, but I’d say sunscreen. People don’t realize how important sun protection is. Not only to prevent a tan but also to prevent ageing and skin cancers. When it comes to beauty, unfortunately, the time and investment are worth it.

What is the biggest skincare myth?
That skincare is only for girls, sunscreen is only for the sunny outdoors, expensive products work better… I can go on and on.

What’s in the future for you?
I’m looking forward to moving back to the city and being around family and friends. Aesthetic medicine has made great progress in India in the last few years and is constantly upgrading. New and advanced treatments are introduced now and then. I am excited to learn and grow in the field of dermatology and aesthetic medicine and to set up an advanced centre in the city.

Any advice for finding a mentor and building a network?
Though women have made important gains in representation in senior leadership roles, we still have a long way to go. I think every woman in a leadership role should make it a point to mentor another woman and make sure we all grow together. I believe that a good mentor sees only your profession and not your gender. When you have that, no job is impossible. As long as you’re genuine and doing good work, networking will happen organically.           — as told to Anisha

Also Read: You & I - 15 November 2021 - Jewellery Special - Radhika Tanguturu