World-renowned diabetologist Padma Shri DR V MOHAN tells SAURABH TANKHA about the gap in demand and supply of diabetes treatment facilities in India, how challenging it is to be a doctor-preneur, solutions to counter diabetes, his life and more…
His name is synonymous with diabetes and diabetology in India. He has established one of the largest chains of diabetes centres in the world, with over 48 branches in 32 cities and eight states of India. When 18, he started working and researching on diabetes along with his father, Prof M Viswanathan, considered the Father of Diabetology in India. Since then, there has been no looking back for Dr V Mohan. For nearly five decades, he has been consistently contributing to diabetes healthcare, research, education and charity.
A prolific writer and researcher, Dr Mohan has over 1,350 articles, research papers and chapters in textbooks to his name. He has now penned an inspiring memoir full of business learnings, a behind-the-scenes account of a person honoured internationally for delivering pathbreaking care to hundreds of thousands of people with diabetes. The book, Making Excellence A Habit: The Secret to Building a World-Class Healthcare System (Penguin Viking; Rs 699) documents the fundamentals of what makes a person achieve meaningful success.
When did you decide to write this book?
I took about two years to write this book. Several of my friends had requested me to compile my life’s learnings as they felt I should share my secrets of how I combined active medical practice with high quality research, teaching, charity, administration and spirituality so that it inspires the present generation.
Did your interest in English during schooldays help you in penning it?
It did. In a sense, life took a full circle as I’d wanted to be a writer. With this book, I achieved my childhood dream.
Several friends had requested me to compile my life’s learnings as they felt I should share my secrets of how I combined active medical practice with high quality research, teaching, charity, administration and spirituality so it inspires the present generation
In Chapter 1, you write it was the “talk on that warm summer night in 1968” with your father that changed your life and you “decided to follow” his wishes to become a doctor. In Chapter 9, you mention “there is a common mistake that parents make, of trying to mould their children into something that they wish for”. Should one listen to the parent or take one’s own decision?
It may seem to be contradiction but let me clarify. I’ve no doubt that children should take their own decisions. Unless they follow their passion, neither will they be happy nor successful. Often during childhood, one may not be able to see the path ahead clearly and elders’ advise may help the child to crystalise the ideas better. In my case, I initially wanted to be a writer. When my father explained I could be one even as I studied medicine, I thought it was a good idea. Writing was my passion throughout medical college days and even now. Initially, it was essays and poetry and later, scientific writing. Throughout my medical college days (both undergraduate and post graduate), I kept writing scientific articles. Even today, at 66, I spend a considerable amount of time writing them. I’ve written innumerable articles and a spiritual book, Sathya Sai Baba Lives On, which has been translated into six languages. Then came the idea of writing Making Excellence A Habit and I’m pleased I could find time to complete this.
My advice to youngsters: If you feel strongly about something, follow your passion because that is the only way you would succeed and be happy. There are some parents who force their children to do medicine, engineering or law, much against the child’s wishes. I’ve seen such children become miserable and never shine because their heart is simply not in it. This is a mistake parents should avoid. They can advise their children but should allow them to take their own decision.
How easy or difficult is it to be a doctor-preneur? What challenges did you face during this effort to reach out to people at the grassroot level?
Not at all because while doctor’s clinical skills may be very good, their administrative skills need not necessarily be so. To combine the two effectively is not easy although there are examples of people who have done both successfully. Having said that, if one has a good team, one can delegate work to one’s managers. The challenges I faced were twofold.
First, in 1971, when I started work with my father, diabetology was not a well-established speciality. There was not a single hospital exclusively devoted to diabetes in India. Hence, introducing the concept of ‘Total Diabetes Care’ was a challenge. Combining this with research while working in the private sector was a greater challenge as people wondered why somebody in the private sector would want to do research.
Second, in 1991, when I left the comfort of my father’s clinic. My wife and I had to start all over again. At that time, we had gained a lot of experience but had no money. This is where my friends and well-wishers played a big role and helped me achieve my dream. Over the last 30 years, we have managed to spread our diabetes services to 32 cities and 52 diabetes clinics across eight states of India, thereby reaching out to lakhs with diabetes. We started a rural diabetes service in Kanchipuram district in Tamil Nadu.
Finally, collaborating with Sri Sathya Sai Seva Organisations, we were able to take free diabetes care to the poor and needy, both in urban and rural parts of India.
Thousands of doctors, nurses, educators, technicians and others have been trained through courses we conduct with the Public Health Foundation of India and other agencies. We’ve helped train healthcare providers in the government sector also
Is there a huge gap in demand and supply of diabetes treatment facilities in India? What steps should be taken to bridge this gap, both at private level and government’s end?
There indeed is as most diabetes clinics are in urban areas while a majority of India’s population lives in the rural belt. We have successfully tried to bridge this gap through telemedicine and by the Chunampet Rural Diabetes project. We have also started courses to train general practitioners and physicians to treat diabetes. Thousands of doctors, nurses, educators, technicians and others have been trained through courses we conduct with the Public Health Foundation of India and other agencies. We’ve helped train healthcare providers in the government sector also. Today I’m happy that, at least in a small way, we were able to take some efforts to bridge the urban-rural divide.
Your mantra for success…
Four mantras are essential for success:
Focus on the work that one does.
Resilience because often our ideas fail and we might have to start all over again. That is when we have to bounce back.
Passion One should love what one is doing and do what one loves.
Hard work Perhaps the most important of all, because without hard work no success is possible.
One in six people with diabetes globally is from India and there are an estimated 77 million diabetics here. Where lies the solution?
I think the solution is at multiple levels. To create awareness so that people with pre-diabetes can be prevented from developing it. This will slow down the rapidly escalating current diabetes epidemic. We need to improve treatment facilities and help people to keep their disorder under control so that they do not develop any complications of diabetes.
To create awareness so that people with pre-diabetes can be prevented from developing it. This will slow down the rapidly escalating current diabetes epidemic. We need to improve treatment facilities and help people to keep their disorder under control
What steps should one take to ensure diabetes does not touch them?
My dream, which I enunciated on the World Diabetes Day, November 14 last year, is to have a ‘Diabetes Complications Free India’. If we follow the ABCD mantra outlined below, one can achieve the goal of a diabetes complications free India. ‘A’ stands for the A1c or HbA1c which should be below 7%. ‘B’ stands for blood pressure which should be below 140/90. ‘C’ stands for cholesterol, especially LDL cholesterol which should below 100g/dL, ‘D’ stands for discipline under which we bundle a healthy diet, adequate exercise, stress reduction through pranayama and meditation and finally regularity in follow up of treatment. If ABCD mantra is followed, one can ensure diabetes does not produce any complications and have a long, healthy life despite diabetes.
Does an award or a recognition, be it in India or outside, make a difference in the attitude of people towards you and your work?
Yes and no. Yes, because it is then people realise your work is worthy of recognition. No, because it is not for the awards that one works, but for one’s self satisfaction. It is more important to win the love, affection and trust of people than win awards.
Plans for future.
I believe a lot more work needs to be done to expand the diabetes work we are, at present, doing in the country. We need to increase awareness about diabetes as there are so many myths propagated in the social media as fake news. Finally, working towards a ‘Diabetes Complications Free India’ will be my goal, in the remaining active years of my life. For this, empowerment of patients as well as medical profession is necessary and I’m trying everything possible to achieve this goal.