“Women in India are coming out and doing a lot of interesting things. Whatever be the case, they should never let their dreams be suppressed – whether they have a child to take care of or they have other responsibilities. All these things fall in place if you have the desire and conviction to stick to your dreams. Somehow everything aligns for success and falls into place if you have strong conviction. I would suggest that women should not play small but play real big, and just be strong,” says Dr Vandana Jain, a doctor and an entrepreneur. Vandana specializes in cornea surgery and is the Co-founder of Advanced Eye Hospital and Institute (AEHI) that she started three years ago.
Vandana’s story is one of dreaming big, and the conviction to make it happen. She talks about her trials and triumphs with HerStory.
A desire to excel, a desire to make it big
I grew up in Delhi in a conservative family. We are three siblings and my elder sister got married at an early age because in our family women are not encouraged to pursue higher education or take up a career. She got married before she actually had an opportunity to think what she really wanted to do with her life. Right from childhood, I had the desire to excel, and I always desired to be something bigger than myself. In my second grade, I was the second best one in the class and I remember that this really bothered me and really pushed me to come first in class. This attitude has really shaped me. I don’t know where this desire to excel comes from because my parents did not put any pressure on me primarily because I was a girl.
With time, I realised that I was also very good at sports. I used to run at the national level. I think sport played a great role in what I became later in life. The thing with sports is that you need to work very hard constantly until you achieve results. There are times you are not getting anywhere but you need to keep practicing if you want to reach there. Sports taught me competitiveness and the ability to realize that nothing comes easy. You cannot get something of value unless you work hard for it.
I really appreciate that though my parents never really encouraged me to play any sport or to really excel in education, they never stopped me from doing anything. My father was the eldest in his family and came under a lot of pressure from his siblings because he allowed me to participate in athletics. In our family, girls were not allowed to do so but my father always supported me to choose what I wanted to do. I respect him a lot for this.
Choosing to be a doctor
I was motivated to be a doctor following my parents’ ill health and their constant eye problems. Their vision was very weak in because they did not receive any treatment in the villages where they grew up.
My father had to get a surgery done in one eye due to some complications and doctors were really hesitant to do it as he had just one eye with good vision and they didn’t want to risk his vision. In the 15 days following the surgery, my father was very upset and demoralised. I realised then how critical is it to have clear eyesight, and how its lack can impact a person psychologically. It was then that I decided that if I get an opportunity, I would like to become an eye doctor.
I completed my MBBS and MS from Mulana Azad Medical College and later pursued the fellowship from L.V. Prasad and one more fellowship from Harvard Medical School in cornea surgery. After that I also completed my MBA from Stanford.
From medical school to B-school
MBA was never on my mind. I started pursuing my practice in Mumbai and continued it for four years. My work was fantastic. But after a while, there were some things that urged me to do something about what I was feeling right at the moment. I was still feeling that I was part of something bigger than this, something with which I could leave a legacy behind.
I could see some gaps in the healthcare delivery sector that I wanted to address but didn’t really know how to go about it. I discussed this with some of my mentors and my friends and many of them suggested that MBA would be a good idea for me. I questioned it in the beginning, eventually I said yes to it.I feel very lucky that there were all these people supporting me. Especially, my husband has always been a pillar of strength for me. Stanford was my dream school — with whatever research I did and the people I spoke to, it became my dream B-school and it was thrilling to be a part of it.
After studying I realised that that’s where I wanted to be. Those two years were just fantastic. I acquired skills and confidence to do what I wanted to do.
At Stanford, I learnt the importance of humility and to stay grounded, and I think these are two fundamental things to grow personally and professionally.
Starting up Advanced Eye Hospital and Institute (AEHI)
Towards the end of 2011, I came back to India. I wanted to combine my business skills with my medical education to create an organisation that could embrace excellence in different fields. I looked at processes of organisations, the element of their customer service, their employee wellbeing, and medical technology etc. I wanted to create an organisation that embraced all these things together. I, along with my husband, took some time to think deeply about all these various aspects and we finally set up AEHI in 2011. We took some time getting loans, raising some money from friends and family and finally started operations in November 2012.
The dream team of doctors-cum-managers
The hospital is a multi-speciality eye hospital. I basically put together seven different doctors from seven different specialities, including myself. I called my mentors, my friends and we started circulating the news that we were starting up our institute as well as clarifying our ethics. Luckily, we found all doctors who are very professional and good in their working attitude.
You can divide doctors into three main skill sets — doctors who are very good with their medical and technical skills, doctors who are excellent in research, and the third category comprises of doctors who are very good managers. I wanted doctors who either already had these skills or who could grow it.
Empowering patients with credible knowledge
People today self-diagnose by searching for information on Google. The problem is that sometimes the information is not credible. As an organization, we want to empower our patients. So whenever a patient comes to us, whether they have read something or have not read something, we have patient information brochure in the hospital. Doctors and counsellor inform patients about the disease and its treatment. We send them the link to this knowledge bank article specific to their particular disease, so they can read more about it and be aware. They know that this knowledge is credible because we have written it. We want to make patients comfortable, confident and well-aware.
Balancing being a doctor and an entrepreneur
It is a lot of fun! I would encourage every doctor to acquire some business knowledge even if they don’t want to become entrepreneurs, because it allows them to understand their patients’ mindset better and manage things.
As an entrepreneur, you continuously have to improvise in order to grow and scale up. As a doctor, I want to make sure that what I do for the patient is perfect. Sometimes I see a clash between these two ideologies. I have to remind myself that I have to go with the perfectionist philosophy when it comes to patients but when it comes to business, at the beginning it is fine to make mistakes as long as you try to understand why you made this mistake, get feedback and always keep improvising.
Also, being a doctor is a full-time job and being an entrepreneur is also a full-time job. To be honest there’s no work life balance, it is only work.
My husband is very supportive and is one of the directors at the hospital. He brings some complimentary skills which I don’t have and helps me with them. For instance, marketing is a very essential component in our organization because we want to grow both vertically and horizontally.
We are planning to open other centres but our focus lies on western India for now. We want to take it slowly because what tends to happen is that if you take too much money from investors and are in a hurry to scale up too fast, it can unnecessarily create cultural conflicts. We don’t want to do that at any cost.
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