Wednesday, March 21, 2007

 

NRI doctors return home

Times of India

Sujata Dutta Sachdeva

His first tryst with India happened five years ago. That's when he came to meet friends and deliver guest lectures in Chennai and Vellore. Little did Dr Hassan Tehrani know that in a few years he would give up a flourishing career as cardiac and endovascular surgeon in the University of Miami and Jackson Memorial Hospital and relocate to Gurgaon, which he did two months ago. He's joined Artemis Health Science (AHS) as a consultant surgeon.

Interestingly, this 39-year-old British citizen, is not alone. Many foreign and NRI doctors are now making a beeline for India and wanting to relocate here to gain the India experience. AHS claims it is getting enquiries from foreign doctors in the US and EU who want to visit the facility and then take a final decision on India.

Tehrani had never imagined that one day he would be assisting in setting up a hospital in India. "Initially, I was sceptical, but a couple of trips later, I saw it as a lifetime opportunity. And my mind was made up," he says. Of course, his wife, a doctor herself too saw it as a great opportunity and challenge.




He realised that if he stayed on in the US, he would be doing the same kind of work even after a decade. It didn't challenge him anymore. "There was little room for personal growth. I wanted to do much more than just treating patients," he asserts. He feels India could offer him that challenge. "The sheer number of patients and cases one handles here is in itself a challenge," says Tehrani.

The situation is much the same in other hospitals too. Dr Shabnam Singh who handles physician recruitment at Max Healthcare, says,"We get many enquiries from foreign doctors who are interested in coming to India. In fact, one of our ads for a surgeon had 20% non-Indian applicants." In fact, in the last three months, a senior NRI dentist, a plastic surgeon and a cardio-vascular surgeon have joined the hospital.

This reverse brain-drain began in the the last five years when many NRI doctors came back by choice. Singh says 10% doctors at Max Healthcare are such cases. For decades, India had watched many of its best-educated doctors shift abroad in search of degrees and mega bucks, never to come back. But now, with talent returning to India, the implications for a developing country like ours is potentially huge.

Dr Vivek Raj, a gastroenterologist with Max Healthcare, says doctors return for both personal and professional reasons. He himself came back in June to join Max after spending 18 years in the US. And despite doing quite well at the University of Arkansas, Little Rock, he began to feel bored like Tehrani. "For the last three years, I wanted to come back as I couldn't imagine doing the same thing for years together. Also, I wanted to translate what I had learnt abroad here."

Though there are the usual explanations about wanting to return to their roots, be close to aging parents and wanting kids to imbibe Indian values, there are other reasons for the prodigals returning.

Experts say it also has to do with the growing economy. After IT, the healthcare sector is now poised for a big leap.
Moolah is being pumped in by MNCs and Indian companies for new R&D centres and super-speciality hospitals. This makes it easier for NRI doctors to make a choice, as they know they can get the same working environment and equivalent infrastructure as they had abroad.

Neonatologist and paediatrician Dr Raghuram Mallaiah came back three years ago when he was offered a chance to set-up the neonatologoy centre at Fortis Hospital, Delhi. "As a medical student I had wanted to change things radically, but opportunities were limited then. So when I was offered a challenge to set up the centre, I took it up. But made it clear that I would return only if all the equipment required to set up the unit and make it world-class, was in place," he says. He has no regrets.

Orthopaedic surgeon Dr Sanjay Sarup has a similar explanation. He had always wanted to return after gaining training abroad. But after spending a decade abroad, when he got an offer to create a specialist department of paediatric orthopaedics at Max, he jumped at the offer. "It was a new field in India and I felt I could create the same standards I had in the UK."




But for doctors such as Tehrani and Dr Kushagra Katariya, a noted cardiac surgeon who gave up his job as associate professor, University of Miami to join AHS as CEO, it also meant being able to focus more on research. With growing medical litigation and restrictions on clinical research, doctors in the US are practising more of defensive research, they feel. "Funders who have deep pockets have realised it's taking more time to get results there, while the costs are prohibitive," says Katariya. "India is becoming the frontier of healthcare research. That's why NRI and foreign doctors are flocking here."

In fact, both friends moved here with the same objective — to do more bedside application. "We want to create cutting edge research, not follow what's been created elsewhere," says Tehrani.

Katariya went to the US with just four suitcases, a few dollars in his pocket and a huge determination to succeed. "But when I decided to return, everyone thought I was a fool to run after a dream. But I knew what I wanted," he says confidently. Ofcourse, the move from south beach Miami to the heat in Gurgaon was not easy for this doctors family. But they are happy to be back.

Ofcourse, all the returnees knew that remuneration here could never match up with what they got abroad. Nor would quality of life be the same, but they were willing to make the compromise.

"Goals change as time goes by. And it takes a certain mindset to understand the opportunity. Indeed, in the West, it's much easier to earn your salary and enjoy it. But as long as you can live comfortably here, you should take up every opportunity as a challenge," explains Katariya. Anyway, as Sarup says, it’s challenges that make life worth living.

But what if their Indian dream doesn't work out the way they want it to and they want to return? Tehrani says he came to India with an open-ended contract,"My wife is expected to join me in a few months. I have not come on a sabbatical, nor do I have a back-up plan. I know it has to be successful," he asserts.

It's obvious there is no looking back for them. India is where the action is and they would rather be a part of it than watch from miles away.



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