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Here’s to your health

“There's a huge demand for people with technical knowledge of medicine, (management) training, the bent of mind and desire to work as managers,” Vandana Kumar tells Rahat Bano
Hindustan Times | By Rahat Bano, New Delhi
UPDATED ON MAY 29, 2009 01:04 PM IST

Vandana kumar, 35
Job: Independent healthcare management consultant

As a medical practitioner, you can give relief to the sick who can access your service. But what if patients live in no-doctor's land? A doctor schooled in management can help manage the situation, just as Vandana Kumar is trying to do. An MBBS and an MBA in healthcare administration, the 35-year-old independent consultant is India lead in an eight-country project to prepare a 'Where There is No Doctor' manual for the village health worker. She is leading the project in four states, implemented by Johns Hopkins University and funded by non-profit publisher Hesperian Foundation. Kumar says she is contributing to the country which gave her so much. So no worries if her compatriots have been raking in more in the US: “India is a happening place and healthcare is booming.”

Born to educationist parents (her father retired as principal and mother as teacher from government schools), the Delhiite says after her MBBS studies she wanted to work for some time to decide on a stream for her MD or MS. She was resident medical officer at a private hospital's Department of Medicine and later resident doctor, ICU, at another in Delhi. But she was disillusioned by the commercialisation of the medical profession, says this alumnus of Delhi University's Maulana Azad Medical College and Faculty of Management Studies.

Why didn't she stay and carry on as a shining example in the clinical side? “I wouldn't have had such a wide impact,” she replies.
After her MBA with a gold medal, Kumar says he had several “lucrative” placement options in hospital administration as well as from insurance, pharmaceutical and equipment manufacturing companies. “I thought why not get into public health which is a hugely neglected area in India. Barring those like UNAIDS and the World Bank, the government and small NGOs don't have the combination of doctors with MBAs. They are not adept at implementation. Common sense is one thing — learning on the job — but training is a strength.”

Today, Kumar is also working on a project called 'An impact assessment of the Integrated Child Development Scheme in Madhya Pradesh', funded by the UK Department of International Development and commissioned by the state government. Among her other current engagements are an 'Innovation in health' project with the Oxford Policy Institute and various other with the New York-based Gerson Lehrman Group.

Money-wise too she's upbeat about her choice. As a freelancer working from home, she earns in six figures per month, depending on the projects she bags. “I'm planning to set up an office,” she adds.

Before venturing out as a freelancer, Kumar was a fellow with the non-profit India Development Foundation, Gurgaon, till November 2008 and a consultant, India Business Trust for HIV/AIDS, Confederation of Indian Industry (CII), till July 2006. Kumar says she quit IDF as the work was more academic (focused on research) than what she learnt at B-school — “my MBA gives me training in implementation”. However, she adds, “That was a huge learning experience." In CII, on the other hand, “I got a chance to work with big industry groups (on CSR initiatives).”

So, what does she think ails India's health machinery? “I think the single problem is delivery. It's not that the government isn't allocating money. Money is a problem but not that big a problem. A lot of money is lying unspent under national health programmes.” What can tidy the scene up? “It requires crisp programmatic approach to improve

service delivery, be it at the primary health centres, secondary or tertiary level hospitals.” And how to curb the commercialisation of the once-noble profession? “This will need a kind of strict standardisation and regulation and ensuring that the objectives are met; just passing Bills and making laws wouldn't help.”

Does she miss her medical practice? “Not at all," bang comes the response. “It was gratifying but also very glum, in a miserable environment.”

Kumar stresses that more doctors should shift to this track. “I am not saying non-medical (healthcare) managers are redundant." Anybody — be it medicos or non-medicos excited by this industry — and who likes challenges should join the field, she suggests. “But medical doctors should be encouraged. They can bring different skill sets to the table… There's a huge demand for this kind of profile — people with technical knowledge of medicine, (management) training, bent of mind and desire to work as managers.”

Pluses and Minuses:
I'm my own boss
It's lucrative (my counterparts in hospitals would be earning less)
You get to choose your work
Variety in the kind of work I do
Miss being part of a team, where I can brainstorm, contribute to a discussion
Challenging to ensure the pipeline doesn't dry up

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