The doctor behind the heart-touching advertisements you see in cinema halls has lot more than that to him

Dr S Gurushankar, Chairman of Meenakshi Mission Hospital and Research Centre, in a conversation at the ThinkEdu Conclave talks about their popular campaign Aram Seidhu Pazhagu and more
Dr S Gurushankar
Dr S Gurushankar

Madurai-based healthcare group Meenakshi Mission Hospital has evolved a great deal over the last three decades, expanding its base from Madurai to rural Thanjavur, alongside its popular philanthropic campaign Aram Seidhu Pazhagu that offers free medical aid to the underprivileged. It is currently headed by Dr S Gurushankar who reiterates that “affordable healthcare is our primary focus”, and who is interestingly also a business graduate from Harvard Business School. We caught up with him while he was in the city to chair a session at TNIE’s ThinkEdu Conclave that discussed whether India is investing enough in healthcare along with other eminent panelists. Excerpts from the chat:

 How do you see medical education in India? Do you think the medical entrance exam, NEET is a welcomed move?

Everyone knows about the corruption in medical education in our country and players like us will venture into the education sector only if this corruption is eradicated. And I believe that the government is working towards that. Recently, we all heard about the capping of stent prices, an initiative to bring down the cost of medical care for the common man. We have a civil structure for a nursing college in Madurai and we are awaiting the decision on NEET to start operations.
To transform a medical student into a doctor at the end of five and half years with a certain standard of medical facilities, a medical college has to invest. In a government college, the taxpayers’ money is used, but who pays for it in a private hospital? Yet, that doesn't justify the humongous capitation fee charged in private medical colleges. There needs to be a reasonable balance in the tuition fee. We need to choose students based on merit and not money. Tamil Nadu is saying no to NEET because there won’t be equal distribution of medical seats as it’s a national exam, and the rural students might lose out because of this. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t welcome it. We just need to ensure that it benefits students from small towns who have limited educational facilities. 


Med Talk: Dr S Gurushankar at the ThinkEdu Conclave

What was the motivation behind Aram Seidhu Pazhagu and popularising it through movie theatres?

We do two kinds of work in our hospital, one is where we charge patients like any private hospital and the other is where we provide free services like the children’s oncology unit. Sadly, many people are not aware of these free services. Once, a couple from Dindigul had a child born with a cleft lip. They went to about seven hospitals to fix it but they couldn’t afford the cost. It’s a fairly simple procedure to fix the defect and it’s one of the free services we provide. The mother found out about us and brought the child to our hospital. After the child was treated, she confided that her husband had taken his life because he felt incapable of caring for his child. We found this incident quite disturbing. Dindigul is about an hour away from Madurai and it’s sad that even people from there aren’t aware of our free services. So, the only way to reach people effectively from low socio-economic backgrounds is through movie theatres. 

We live in an era where it’s simply not financially viable to build hospitals in rural areas and we still keep complaining that no one facilitates medical care in rural areas

Dr S Gurushankar, Chairman, Meenakshi Mission Hospital and Research Centre

Not many doctors pursue MBA. Was there a particular reason why you chose to do one?

Hospitals need to be run like a social business. It’s not just only about medicine and medical care. When I wanted to set up a cardiac hospital in Thanjavur, which is a town with limited medical facilities, I was told that the amount of funds needed to set up a proper medical facility in Thanjavur would be the same as in Chennai. There’s no subsidy or exemption of custom duties by the government for providing medical care in rural areas. The cost of consumables, doctors’ fee and the interest on borrowed capital is also the same, be it an urban or rural centre. We need to provide incentives to doctors and hospitals to go to these rural areas. To understand all these factors, it’s not enough to just have a medical degree, you need to think beyond that. Treating a patient and managing a hospital are quite different.

What is it that you would like to tell young aspiring medical students?

Empathy is key to be a doctor. If you can’t empathise with a person’s problem, this profession is not for you. A few months ago, we saw a couple of medical students throw a dog from a building. It’s scary to see these kind of people become doctors and handle patients. In the words of Dr Abdul Kalam, a doctor needs to have two hearts, one is your biological heart and the other one is to empathise with your patient. And I personally feel that if a student has seen the struggles of life, they will be more empathetic and this is why I think students from an underprivileged background need to be given the right opportunities. And we are running short of doctors, so now is the right time to help aspiring students.

The popular advertisements from the campaign Aram Seidhu Pazhagu,

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