Dr Sasaka Bandaranayake – Rural & Regional Women’s Scholarship

The St John’s College Foundation Rural & Regional Women’s Scholarship is named in honour of Dr Sasaka Bandaranayake, originally from Townsville, who attended the College from 1992 to 1995 while completing her medical degree. Sasaka is a paediatrician with the Queensland Paediatric Rehabilitation Service at the Lady Cilento Children’s Hospital (Brisbane) and she shares with us some insights into her St John’s journey and beyond:


What does your current role at Lady Cilento Children’s Hospital entail?

I am a Rehabilitation Paediatrician who works with a dedicated group of physicians and allied health professionals at the Queensland Paediatric Rehabilitation Service at Lady Cilento Children’s Hospital. I am privileged to take care of children with disability resulting from Cerebral Palsy, Acquired Brain Injury, Spinal Cord Injury, Spina Bifida and Limb Difference.

We meet these families at a time when they are at their lowest – after a significant life changing event or diagnosis. We manage their medical and psychosocial needs, through their grief and adjustment, so they may find new meaning and purpose in life. Many patients remain with us until they finish school.

Working with these children and their amazing families can be emotionally draining. Having a family of my own (3 young boys), I am always reminded of how fragile life is and how it can be changed in an instant. Balancing work with motherhood is always a work in progress – some weeks are better than others, but both roles make my life interesting and satisfying – and also tiring!

What was it that attracted you to the field of medicine? 

Growing up in a family where my parents emigrated from Sri Lanka for a “better education” for their children, they did suggest I become a doctor more than once during my childhood! Doctors are highly regarded in Sri Lanka. However, my decision to study medicine was more than my parent’s mere suggestion.

Through schooling I realised what I didn’t want to do more than what I wanted to do. Medicine is an art as well as a science, and this and the endless possibilities that medicine offers, appealed to me. I knew the growing field of medicine would continually challenge me and that helping others would bring meaning and purpose to my life.

I didn’t have any firm ideas on which area of medicine I would end up in, but I did my Year 10 work experience with a family friend, who was a local Paediatrician; and interestingly, that’s where I ended up 12 years later!

How did you initially find out about St John’s College (SJC) and what was it that led you to become a resident there?

St John’s was a co-educational college that offered a well-rounded cultural program. I realised to balance the demands of medicine, it was important to satisfy my ‘soul’ by continuing to play the piano and sing, act and perform. In addition, a friend from Townsville, my hometown, entered SJC the year prior. She was studying music and culturally involved at SJC, and confirmed this was the right college for me.

What do you remember most about life on campus?

There was a lot to like about campus life, especially the first year living away from home… the autonomy, the student lifestyle, forging new friendships, the ‘firsts’ of many things, and the steep learning curve of independence.

Gatherings in the common room were always a highlight for me (which was commonly used as an excuse not to study). It brought together individuals from all walks of life and made for interesting conversation, often leading to eventful spontaneous evenings!

What college extra-curricular activities did you undertake?

I was heavily involved in the Cultural aspect of College, collaborating with other like-minded collegians to rehearse and perform at church and various college functions. I loved to perform on stage. We were always looking for the next opportunity to be creative in song or another cultural act.

What was the highlight of your St John’s experience?

The night I was voted as the next Student Club President and the first female Student Club President of St John’s was pretty surreal and memorable. I did not expect to win and I did not anticipate the true significance of what we had achieved as a College. The whole incumbent executive was a dream team to work with and it was so exciting to end the year knowing that the following year held so much promise.

If you could say one thing to a student considering applying for a scholarship to study at SJC, what would it be?

Don’t hesitate – a small amount of effort may result in an extraordinary opportunity. What’s there to lose?