She has been associated with Adyar Cancer Institute since 1955, and has held several key positions, including its Director between 1980-1997. She is a member of the World Health Organisation's Advisory Committee on Health and several other national and international committees on health and medicine.
She did her schooling from National Girls High School (now P.S. Sivaswamy Higher Secondary School) and had always wanted to become a Doctor. She completed her graduation from Madras Medical College in 1949, and her M.D. in 1955.
She did not have any role models, but was always inspired by her maternal uncle S. Chandrasekar and her grandfather's brother, Sir C V Raman.
The institute began with a single building and a cluster of huts with minimal equipment and two doctors, Dr. Shanta and Dr. Krishnamurthi. For three years she worked as honorary staff after which, the Institute offered to pay her Rs.200 per month and residence within the campus. She moved into the campus on April 13, 1955, and has remained there ever since.
The award citation is worth quoting to describe aptly Shanta's service. It reads:
"In an era when specialised medical care in India has become highly commercialised, Dr. Shanta strives to ensure that the Institute remains true to its ethos, `Service to all.' Its services are free or subsidised for some 60 per cent of its 100,000 annual patients; travel allowances make regular treatments accessible to the poor. And through a volunteer programme called Sanctuary, the Institute provides hope-giving emotional support and counselling to patients and their families and to cancer-afflicted children. There are thousands who might say, as leukaemia victim Delli Rao, a wageworker, has said, `I owe my life to Dr. Shanta.' Seventy-eight-year-old Shanta still sees patients, still performs surgery, and is still on call twenty-four hours a day."
"The journey has been long. I don't see an end to it, simply because our work is never ending. What we have done is very little. There is much more to do. The journey has been arduous, with bricks and stones and occasional flowers strewn in between, but we continue…"
"When the sick approach the gates of the Institute, weak in body and spirit, and full of fear, there is only one response, you have to become part of them"
"Every obstacle I have overcome, every patient I have cured, every child I have treated who has grown, got married and come back to see me with his/her children have made my whole life memorable."