Dr Tarang Gianchandani, who handled the H1N1 outbreak in Singapore and the treatment of the Shakti Mills rape survivor, feels that women have it in their DNA to ‘balance work and life much better, and in a way that both get their due priority’.
As the fourth generation of a family of doctors, a life not spent granting the gift of life to the debilitated wasn’t worthwhile for Dr Tarang Gianchandani. She rose up the rungs in the healthcare industry, not only as a skilled doctor but also as an unparalleled administrator, handling crises with prompt, affirmative action. Be it matters of national importance like the H1N1 outbreak or those needing utmost sensitivity such as the treatment of the Shakti Mills gangrape survivor, she handled them all deftly.
The inspiration for Dr Tarang, now Chief Executive Officer of Mumbai’s prestigious Jaslok Hospital, came from her mother’s fulfilling life as a doctor. However, she vividly remembers a moment of striking clarity that convinced her that she had set her heart on the right field.
“I lost my grandmother in my arms to a cardiac arrest when I was 18 years old. I felt that if I’d been a doctor or been trained in some way, I could have made a difference to her life,” she recalls.
Dr Tarang studied in Asia’s only women’s medical college, the Lady Hardinge Medical College, to become an orthopaedic surgeon and went on to procure an MBA from the National University of Singapore. During the last semester, Changi General Hospital was part of the placements and made her an interesting offer - to lead clinical quality and roll out JCI reaccreditation at CGH. The job involved risk management, monitoring of patient safety issues and medical care for patients along with supporting innovative quality-improvement initiatives across the hospital.
“I was handling the administrative portfolio, unlike the clinical portfolio that I was used to. Leading a socio-culturally diverse team was a challenge as well as great learning experience,” Dr Tarang recalls.
While being a woman in the field never made her feel any bias at the workplace, societal pressures often creep in, especially at those junctures in life when your supposed filial responsibilities get more demanding - be it marriage, child birth or the like.
“One does have some setbacks, especially at times when you need to take a break to plan your family and take care of your kids. I don’t regret juggling my priorities one bit though, and the fact that I had no guilt on that front helped me perform better. I think women have it in their DNA to balance work and life much better, and in a way that both get their due priority,” she explains.
Dr Tarang also served the Ministry of Health of Singapore during the crisis that unfolded as H1N1 was declared an epidemic in Singapore.
“Working tirelessly with the senior-most officials as part of the taskforce was rewarding, and helped me understand the importance of team work across functional departments. It also gave insights on how policies are developed at headquarter-level to safeguard citizens in an equitable, efficient and economical manner,” she says.
During her short tenure there, she was tasked with addressing issues permeating various levels of medical capabilities across hospitals. These included emergency response preparedness, policy implementation of human organ transplants during the H1N1 outbreak, and, later, challenges pertaining to the aging population and how to provide them an ecosystem of continuous care.
Eventually, driven by the desire to stay closer to her aging parents as well as create a difference in her own country, Dr Tarang moved back to India.
Jaslok Hospital was initially considering her for the role of Head, Quality, and recruited her to improve patient care, develop processes across the system, and procure NABH accreditation for the hospital.
One of her most memorable experiences was when she witnessed an employee union in the healthcare space, one that was backed by political leaders. As someone who had worked in Singapore for 15 years, she couldn’t fathom how staff could unionise - and even get involved in activities that could be detrimental for organisations, especially a hospital.
“Seeing political leaders support unproductivity and disruption of law and order in a hospital was even more of a shock. But I soon realised that is what made India a democracy,” she says.
As she navigated this brand new space with idiosyncrasies that could throw off the best on the field, Dr Tarang’s appetite for challenges and her passion for change and growth became apparent.
But the mindset of staff and healthcare professionals can often be rigid. As part of the management, Dr Tarang would very often be questioned on why anything that had been working for four decades suddenly needed to be changed.
“Instilling change in an old physical infrastructure amid the rigid mindset of people has been very challenging. Another challenge that persists is making policies here patient-centric; that is one of my main goals,” she says.
Dr Tarang took it upon herself to make sure processes were amended to be patient-facing, be it report collection or fast-track admission. Her strategies also helped Jaslok Hospital get NABH and JCI certification. Her relentless work helped her climb up the rungs, and she now serves as CEO of the prestigious institute.
Soon after she took over the reins, another situation tested her mettle, not only as a leader but also as a doctor, and - most importantly - as a woman.
The 43-year-old hospital was chosen on the night of August 22, 2013, to house the photojournalist in the Shakti Mills gang rape as her peers found a private setup more preferable.
“The priority as a doctor and an administrator was to give the best care to the patient, keep her comfortable, and her information confidential. The patient also exposed the organisation to worldwide media and political attention. It was a challenge to maintain patient safety and care amid such circumstances. We witnessed a great deal of team effort during this period. My entire focus, as acting CEO, was my patient and that seemed to put everything in place,” she says.
As a woman on top, she has sensed that India as a society is inching towards equal rights, but feels that certain chasms still persist.
“I have myself seen surprise and discomfort in some men at top positions, when a woman CEO is in front of them. I have seen women facing many biases at the workplace but the key is to convince people of our importance by being patient, result-oriented and delivering successful outcomes. Society is maturing and many men do realise and understand the capabilities of women,” she says.
According to her, as a woman of today, one needs to first “believe in herself, her individuality, her happiness, set goals, follow them and create a positive aura with the right attitude”.