About the Book:
AS A FLEDGLING DOCTOR, WHAT WOULD YOU CHOOSE: PRACTISING MEDICINE IN RURAL INDIA OR GOING ABROAD IN SEARCH OF FINANCIAL SECURITY?
HOW WOULD YOU FACE THE PEOPLE WHO DEPEND ON YOU IF YOUR WEALTH IS WIPED OUT IN THE STOCK MARKET?
HOW WOULD YOU PURSUE A DREAM PROJECT, KNOWING THE MANY CHALLENGES THAT LIE AHEAD?
In Excellence Has No Borders, Dr B.S. Ajaikumar, an oncologist, answers these questions in an inspiring and fascinating narrative. He details how he has made cancer treatment accessible to all and created a chain of world-class cancer hospitals across India. Providing a captivating account of his entrepreneurial journey, Dr Ajaikumar recounts the challenges and successes on the path to becoming a doctorpreneur. The book, containing lessons from his life, shows how tenacity, hard work and self-confidence can go a long way in achieving the unimaginable. It is a must-read for anyone looking for inspiration.
About the Author:
DR B.S. AJAIKUMAR is chairman and CEO of HealthCare Global (HCG). He founded HCG to realize his vision of making advanced cancer care accessible to all. Dr Ajaikumar’s contribution to the field of cancer care in India and his achievements as a first-generation physician–entrepreneur have been widely recognized. He has been given the EY Entrepreneur of the Year Award, the CII Regional Emerging Entrepreneur Award and the BC Roy Award by Indian Science Monitor. He is also a recipient of the Karnataka Rajyotsava Award. Dr. Ajaikumar has been a practising oncologist in the United States and India for more than three decades. He completed his residency training in radiotherapy from the MD Anderson Hospital and Tumor Institute of the University of Texas, and his residency training in oncology from the University of Virginia Hospital, Charlottesville. He received his MBBS from St John’s Medical College, Bengaluru.
- As your father was a lawyer, were you never inclined towards taking up law? What drove you to take up medicine?
My father even though he was a law professor was somehow passionate about the medical field. The main reason I didn’t peruse law was family, my brother should have been a lawyer as he is a good debater, but he took medicine and naturally I also followed the same.
2. What motivated you to go to study in the US? Was it and after working so hard there, why did you decide on coming back to India?
I had my interest in pursuing higher studies in cardiology or speciality in like oncology. At that time, India didn’t have the technology – that we have today and highly specialized centres. India’s at that time was a very restrictive society, and liberalization didn’t happen. In view of this, we felt somewhat suffocated; we wanted to be in an open society, study and fulfil our passion. With my interest vested to serve in the rural area, I had applied to work in a government hospital, but the system was based on nepotism and corruption, I didn’t even get a seat. Hence, I decided to move abroad for further studies. That is how today India loses people who are brilliant, bright, good entrepreneurs to the world because of lack of a proper ecosystem. If you look at Silicon Valley, why there are so many Indians? Why there are so many Indians in universities abroad? Why are Indians winning Nobel Prizes abroad? Why are Indians running major corporations elsewhere? But not in India because India lacks in providing a proper ecosystem. I don’t know at what point we understand this.
Having left India for my further studies abroad, my soul was always in India. I always had a passion for doing something for my country. Despite all the obstacles we face, I felt it as a challenge, took it up. The number of years I had spent away from my country more I was determined to come back. In the year 2008, I gave up my practice and came back to India. The whole idea was to create a world-class Cancer Centre, not only one city but multiple cities. We should create an ecosystem with state-of-the-art infrastructure and technology, which, in future, will create that excellence without any borders. This can lead to having professional satisfaction within our country rather than going abroad.
3. What was your most memorable experience at MD Anderson Cancer Centre?
My working with MD Anderson gave me empowerment. For me, when I did my medical not only radiation but medical oncology, there were memorable experiences one of them being how to take care of advanced cases. I had a leukaemia patient from Florida, who young and quite affluent. He told me that, doctor save my life, and you can have all my wealth. The patient’s urge to save his life are those things that stay in your mind. And those things are the driving force to your passion.
4. In oncology, what according to you separates medical training in India versus in the US?
Today I’m happy to say, people who get trained in HCG centres get the exposure to technology at par with the world. They get the same knowledge-sharing experience, research and publication, academics and host of other things. Therefore, today literally there is not much of difference compared to even best centres in the US.
5. Building a set up in India isn’t easy. How did you approach the US government for the grant to build a cancer centre in India?
I never approached the US government for setting up a Cancer Centre in India and setting up a centre isn’t easy. My motto has always been to never seek any help or grant from any government. I wanted to do it the hard way, the right way by investing my own money. The only help I got from the US government is I got a tax exemption status to do my not-for-profit hospital in Mysore. While working in the US I used to donate part of my salary, which was tax exempted. I want to hear thank the US government that they allowed me to take a tax exemption for a project which is not in the USA outside in India this is really something commendable. I built up the cancer centre – as you will read in my book – by my own investments and then approaching private equity investments.
6. What you’ve achieved is very commendable; with such cut-throat competition do you have any platforms where Indian medical students or young doctors could get involved?
Thanks for quoting our achievement commendable. Yes, there is competition in India. I think the present doctors should be taught & mentored so that the next generation of doctors can follow the same. Majority of the doctors are good but unfortunately, there are few bad elements, which might have created a feeling in the public at large that doctors are out to make money. But, let me tell you the majority of the doctors take up this profession to serve people. It is not an easy profession, five years of hard training followed by another five years of speciality training.
It is important to communicate that firstly majority of doctors are ethical, they are caring, and they have taken this profession as service to society. But at the same time, appropriate remuneration is also important like any other profession for them to lead a good life. India, today, has such great value-based medicine, it has the lowest medical cost to the type of quality care is delivered and the technology used. This should be appreciated and nurtured. There is a need to bring universal healthcare to bring parity among the rich and the poor until that time we will be bailing this issue.
Hence, it is important that medical doctors/ students should be mentored the right way so they become ethical doctors.
7. What is your say on increasing suspicions, a constant need for justification and violence against the doctors in our country?
The important thing is to build trust. What is lacking today is the trust between a doctor and the patient and there may be few doctors responsible for it. While the majority of doctors are ethical and caring. It is important to portray a doctor’s functioning properly and in the correct manner.
8. Your book is a beautiful inspirational piece. To have such diverse interests and to work with so much in hand must’ve been difficult. What do you think could make our doctors better? What would you like to say to the medical students of our country?
A person with a right mindset and ethical conscious should take up the profession to become a doctor. Before someone decides to opt for medical as a career option, they should understand what it means to be a medical student/ or a doctor. They buy into the philosophy of being a doctor, it takes transparency, patient centric approach, only then one should opt for medical profession. This is when proper counseling needs to be done by the system so that the right people take up this profession.
The interview was conducted by Dr Suranjana Basak, Editorial Director of Lexicon India.
Praises for the book:
‘Dr Ajaikumar is a rare optimist—friendly, positive, benevolent and full of creative ideas. His own personal excellence has no borders—he is a personality that banishes pessimism and opens up the mind and the heart to the potential of great humanism to transform the very way we think and act as members of the community. He tells us that an impersonal love for mankind can transform everything in the world. This book is a firm reaffirmation of this faith’
– M.N. VENKATACHALIAH, former chief justice of India
‘Dr Ajaikumar’s life is a journey of perseverance, faith and triumph against all odds. A compelling memoir, his remarkable story chronicles his many successes and failures, but, above all, his unwavering dedication to making cancer treatment accessible and affordable to all’
-SHASHI THAROOR, member of Parliament, Lok Sabha
‘Medical excellence is a necessity for saving lives. Dr Ajaikumar has built HCG on this philosophy—that life doesn’t compromise on compliance to the highest standards of quality and ethics’
– KIRAN MAZUMDAR SHAW, chairperson, Biocon Limited
‘Ajai and I share a similar background. Both of us have worked abroad—Ajai in the US and I in the UK—returning with lofty dreams and turning into passionate “doctorpreneurs”. I have been closely following Ajai and his impressive work. Having gone through the trials and tribulations of building a world-class institution, I can vouch for his phenomenal grit, perseverance and unwavering vision. He epitomizes the phrase “doctors without borders”’
– DR DEVI SHETTY, chairman and founder, Narayana Health
‘Dr Ajaikumar’s book is a must-read for those who aspire to deliver world-class healthcare affordably—whether in the developing world or in the richer countries’
-VIJAY GOVINDARAJAN, Coxe Distinguished Professor at Dartmouth College’s Tuck School of Business and a New York Times and Wall Street Journal bestselling author
‘Dr Ajaikumar inspired us to coin the term “doctorpreneur” some years back. He’s part doctor, part philanthropist and part entrepreneur. In the book, he shares his secrets to delivering world-class cancer care affordably to everyone in society. But note this: Dr Ajaikumar’s lessons apply to every entrepreneur, in any industry, looking to do well while doing good!’
–RAVI RAMAMURTI, university distinguished professor, Northeastern University, and co-author of Reverse Innovation in Health Care