Goddesses in White Coats or Women with Superpowers? A Candid Conversation with India's Best Doctors
Dais Features | 23/10/2020 05:00 PM
Indian women are powerful and incredible. Shakti, Bhakti, Mukti or Energy, Devotion and Liberation is within each woman, just like Maa Durga (the Goddess). Durga Puja marks the emphatic victory of Durga, the symbol of goodness, over the evil - Mahishasura. She is hailed as a warrior goddess who is an epitome of love, beauty, strength, knowledge, and courage.
The brave medical army stands tall and strong in the fight against coronavirus and the consequential troubled times. The list of sleep-deprived doctors, nurses, paramedics, and health care administrators is long and ever-growing. During the last 7 months or so, we all have started reassessing the value of Doctors and the medical fraternity in our lives and the kind of treatment they receive from us.
As we sat in our homes and waited for the storm to blow over, these valiant professionals stepped out every day – working non-stop to keep us safe and protected. Although the government does mention their contribution time and again, in maintaining the low mortality and the highest recovery rate in the world –we realised it wasn’t enough.
We wanted to pay a special tribute to these exemplary women – understand what went on in their minds as they balanced their home and their ‘essential services’ profession with equal aplomb and still managed to keep their spirits high throughout this entire pandemic. We wanted to know how they kept themselves steady while at the helm of India’s fight against one of the most deadliest diseases of the century. And we wanted to say "Thank You" for bringing us to the point where we begin the festival season feeling safe in the hands of these brave warriors who have personified Maa Durga for us this 2020.
DR. SUNITA MAHESHWARI, Outlook Business WOW 2019 (Woman of Worth) and 2014’s ‘Amazing Indian’ award by Times Now, is a US Board certified Paediatric Cardiologist who did her MBBS at Osmania medical college followed by post-graduation at AIIMS, Delhi and Yale University in the US. She was the winner of the ‘Young Clinician Award’ from the American Heart Association and the ‘Best Teacher Award’ at Yale University. She was nominated one of the Top 20 women achievers in medicine in India and sits on the Advisory Board of GSK, India, and the American heart association’s foundation in India-HSFI.
Apart from her medical clinical work she is a medical entrepreneur and cofounded and is the Chief Dreamer at Teleradiology Solutions (India’s first and largest teleradiology company), Telrad tech which builds AI-enabled telehealth software, RXDX healthcare- a chain of primary care neighbourhood clinics in Bangalore, and has incubated other start-up companies in the telehealth space such as Healtheminds-a tele-counselling platform.
She has over 200 academic presentations and publications to her credit, runs an e-teaching program for PGs in paediatric cardiology and is an inspirational speaker having given over 200 lectures, including several TEDx talks.
She is active in the social arena in India where she runs 2 trust funds. People4people has put up over 400 playgrounds in government schools and Telrad Foundation provides teleradiology and telemedicine services to poor areas in Asia that do not have access to high-quality medical care.
Our discussion with her for this special feature centred around her experiences with her patients and the social community she worked with during the past 8 months, fighting this disease and the anxiety it brought along. She also shared some of her softer moments that brought out the mother and the woman in her alongside the role of a strong professional that she is.
We bring you the excerpts of our conversation with Dr Sunita Maheshwari . . .
Did you experience a surge of anxiety and uncertainty in your patients when Covid began? How did you tackle that?
Dr. Sunita Maheshwari: YES! For the first two months, the patients did not want to come to our clinics in Bangalore. There was a lot of disinformation and panic on social media so patients would keep messaging us saying- "Is this true, I passed a Covid patient in the corridor, will I get it too?" etc. We started a very aggressive medical education program with our doctors giving talks and Q&A on all our digital platforms. These talks on Covid prevention and care helped reduce anxiety. We stayed available for our patients via telemedicine and home care with pharmacy drop-offs etc so they could at least reach out for their medical concerns.
Interestingly, it was not just the patients who had anxiety-but even the medical staff. We had two reactions to the pandemic among our healthcare staff-I would classify them as the fearful and the warriors! Some doctors refused to come to the clinic to see patients, some staff went home and refused to return. While I don’t blame the health care workers for being afraid, I definitely felt it was our duty to be available for our patients-running away for a doctor in a pandemic is not an option.
So we worked with the brave staff - got PPE for them, created a fever clinic, invested in a UV light cleaner, disinfected the rooms, did regular training sessions and hand-holding for them, enabled free counselling sessions, ensured they wore masks/face shields and took their vitamin C, D and zinc, took care of them if they did happen to get Covid, made sure they got their salaries on time and did not do any pay cuts. RXDX clinical leaders like Dr Belliappa and Dr Chhavi and myself led from the front, ensuring to come to the clinic even during the lockdown, by rotation. All these measures led to RXDX having a majority of warriors and a small minority of the fearful.
How did you keep track of the ever-changing regulations during the entire Covid 19 period? And how did you keep your staff abreast of these rules?
Dr. Sunita Maheshwari: It was a challenge! Almost every day the rules and guidelines were changing. At RXDX healthcare, we formed a core Covid team that kept abreast of the Ministry of Health, ICMR and WHO guidelines. Luckily, our physicians at RXDX are very up to date and discuss things as a group and are open to change. So, we kept staying ahead of the curve. For instance, we read about home care for Covid for asymptomatic patients that were implemented in other parts of India and the world so we were ready with our Covidcare@home packages and implementation strategies before the Karnataka government finally allowed it. So, the day they said home care is allowed for Covid positive patients, we were ready with a plan.
How has patient attitude transformed, if at all during these Covid pandemic months? Have they become more appreciative and thankful to your staff who are attending to them at the expense of their own safety and health?
Dr. Sunita Maheshwari: Yes, I do believe the community has appreciated us for being there for them during this time. We got a lot of thank you’s for the consultations, the e-pharmacy drop-offs, the home testing, the home vaccination and especially the home care monitoring as we managed to keep a lot of patients outside the hospital. We have had a lot of our medical staff and doctors get Covid as well but they were real warriors-working from home during this time and then giving motivational talks to other staff and the community on treatment measures and how Covid is treatable.
You see a lot of children who are unwell, on a daily basis. How does that affect you as a woman and as a mother?
Dr. Sunita Maheshwari: Seeing children with heart disease evokes two emotions in me depending on the patient. The first one is of joy because I know I can help fix the issue and I look forward to seeing them back to normal. However, when it is a complex cardiac issue and I know there are no easy solutions and the baby will either not live long or will live a stunted life, then I feel intense sorrow-not just for the baby but also for the parents. As a parent, I can understand the agony they must experience. And I always keep that in mind when counselling them. Many times, my eyes are moist when I am explaining things to them. I do believe empathy bonds us for life. On a personal front, because of all the pain I see as a doctor, I stay very grounded in my personal life-always grateful for the little things, and for the health and well-being, my family is blessed to have.
How do you think the perception about doctors did change over the years - when earlier people used to consider doctors as God and now, they Google everything their doctor says?
Dr. Sunita Maheshwari: As a doctor, I believe if we treat our patients with the best intentions, the patient feels it and many doctors and their patients have life long bonds of trust and healing. I think what has changed is perhaps the cost of healthcare and the expectations. When I was going to medical school, doctors worked for virtually no pay and they were always revered as Gods but living in poverty.
However today, with the cost of living being high and rising income levels in India, I think it is only fair that those who can pay should pay for their care and allow the doctor to have a decent standard of living as well. Do doctors sometimes over-order or overdo things for money? Perhaps. Do patients sometimes overreact to situations and distrust? Perhaps. Is violence against doctors acceptable? A BIG NO.
While Google gives a lot of information, it cannot yet examine the patient and actually give a correct diagnosis and treatment plan! I think what the pandemic has taught people is they cannot live without their doctors. We need to have mutual kindness.
A lot of TV shows over the past decade like Grey's anatomy, Sanjeevani have glamourized the lives of doctors - How much of it is true and could you tell us 3 things that no one tells you about becoming a doctor?
Dr. Sunita Maheshwari: Firstly, young women, I must warn you- There are very few Dr Derek Shepherds out there!!!! And yes, I don’t think the lives of doctors are that glamorous. There is a lot of hard work, a lot of anxiety (did I make the right diagnosis, did I miss something, have any complications occurred) and a lot of sleep deprivation! Seeing a patient get better, having a thank you bag of fruits land on your desk, a pat by a senior doctor or a warm smile from the nurse signalling you did a good job-these are all the things that make being a doctor worthwhile.
What, in your experienced opinion, can the government do to improve the health and well-being of its young citizens?
Dr. Sunita Maheshwari: I think if the government can work on three areas it would be wonderful for everyone’s health. No. 1, help cut air pollution as this will reduce airway and heart disease (teach the farmers non-burning techniques, ensure the roads are tarred permanently e.g. plastic or cement roads so there is reduced dust, improve public transport so private vehicles are used less, educate all regarding the benefits of composting and the ills of burning garbage). No. 2, improve the quality of our water as this will improve the height and weight of our children and reduce diarrhoeal diseases (e.g. ensure sewage treatment plants are installed and functioning, push for rainwater harvesting everywhere). No. 3, enable and encourage walking and physical activities as this will help control obesity and its attendant issues (e.g. reduce traffic in the cities as this will reduce prolonged hours of sitting, open up the public parks from 5 am to 8 pm rather than the limited hours they are now open, create playgrounds and public spaces for all to use, all over the country)
DR SUMITA SINGH, Director and Senior Medical Consultant at Suraj Diagnostic and Research Center, and a Consultant at Batra Hospital and Safdarjung Hospital in New Delhi has more than 23 years of experience as a General and Laparoscopic Surgeon.
Her critical thinking skills, positive attitude and hands-on experience in managing end-to-end medical and surgical functions help her interface effectively with patients, their families and the nursing staff. She is technically sound and experienced in performing Female Anorectal Surgeries, General Surgeries, Laparoscopic Cholecystectomy, Diagnostic Laparoscopy, Gynaecological Surgeries, Normal & Caesarean Deliveries, Ultrasonography as well as Major/Minor Procedures. Her vast experience as a surgeon and her empathetic nature as a woman helps patients become instantly comfortable with her to discuss their generic as well as more specific issues such as reproductive impediments.
She was the President of the Rotary Club Gurgaon Cosmopolitan from 2017 to 2018 and is an active Rotarian and a Paul Harris Member.
Our conversation with her was filled with passion and joie de vivre. It kept us intrigued how much vigour and confidence this knowledgeable yet humble professional brings to her job and her patients each day.
We bring you the excerpts of our conversation with Dr. Sumita Singh . . .
How has surgery transformed over the years? Simplified procedures, better medical equipment, faster healing, lesser hospital stays - could you please throw some light on these?
Dr. Sumita Singh: I have been a doctor for more than 23 years now. Surgery has indeed transformed a lot over this time period. In my post-graduation days around 1991, the word 'laparoscopy' was a 'short-note' in our syllabus- just for the sake of knowing the term, not even a part of the curriculum. It was that new. Even when I started my practice after 1994, it was not a very known concept.
Yes, it made a lot of difference in the hospital stay, the recovery, positive for both the patient as well as for the surgeon. The cost is still high - it has perhaps reduced by about 25% from what it used to be but not much because of the basic cost of the instruments, the disposable equipment, consumables etc stays. There isn’t much government aid here. So, the costs remain high.
Most laparoscopic procedures are done by private setups, in a government hospital, unfortunately, the waiting period is very long, not many doctors and facilities to conduct these surgeries. A laparoscopic surgery is primarily done for abdomen-related surgeries. A lot of these surgeries which are abdominal could become laparoscopic, but with the current high cost and low medical facilities we have, it is difficult for it to reach the larger masses.
A lot of women are exploring not having children nowadays - Do you see this as a medical issue or something else? And what can they do to keep themselves healthy?
Dr. Sumita Singh: Not having a baby is a woman's personal choice. Just one thing though - from the age of Menarche (the onset of menstruation for a girl), a mother must explain to her daughter to regularly do a self-breast-examination for any lumps or unusual softness or discharge. Give your daughter the comfort as a mother, that if you experience any abnormality, please come to me. I have seen breast cancer cases in women who are unmarried or have never had children i.e. who have never lactated. But that surely is one of the reasons for this kind of cancer, not the only one.
Regular exercise at any age is essential, a high-fibre diet, plenty of water and fluid intake reduce consumption of red meat, alcohol and smoking and of course stay happy. Stress leads to many diseases. After the age of 40, go in for mammography as part of your routine health check-ups. A mammography can help detect a tumour much before one can physically feel it - sometimes up to 2 years prior. It is a very effective screening method.
Dealing with patients' families can be emotionally challenging sometimes. Has there ever been an instance which you remember distinctly and has stayed with you?
Dr. Sumita Singh: Yes, I do get emotionally attached to my patients and the cases at hand. I actually consider that my strength.
There was a time when I used to take rounds and I remember going for rounds even at 12 in the night and I used to cherish seeing patients and their family members feeling content that the doctor came to see them even at that hour - that appreciation on their faces is something I used to feel very happy about. I have sometimes gone to see a patient directly from a party in the same dressy attire and the patients would be shocked looking at me. But I always knew that it was essential for me to be there at that moment, I couldn’t have wasted time going home to change and then go for the emergency.
In one of the gynaecological cases where a couple couldn’t conceive for a long time and when they finally did after my treatment, the happiness was just fantastic I remember.
As a woman, what strengths do you believe you bring to your profession? Are there any weaknesses too?
Dr. Sumita Singh: I enjoy talking to people because texts have limitations.
The profession of a surgeon is rarely picked by women - When I chose to take up surgery, the boys in our class tried to discourage us - saying "You will waste these seats, there is a high chance that you will drop out of the course."
I have a good experience of working with my male colleagues - all very supportive and protective. So far as a woman knows to carry herself well, she can survive anywhere. I have not gone home for 48 hours at a stretch sometimes while on training - but never felt any threat or fear of anything. Patients feel more comfortable speaking their fears and apprehensions to a female doctor, maybe because we are more communicative and empathetic towards them. Every woman is caring and has a maternal instinct. When a person is sick, sometimes they just start feeling better by speaking to a doctor who is empathetic.
I don’t think there are any weaknesses a woman has when she is working as a doctor - the weaknesses of a normal person could be common to a doctor - man or a woman. There are concerns of safety while coming back from duty at odd hours which I feel is common to both genders. I have always believed in being independent so I rarely depend on someone to drive me around for my work. No fear of working late either - I never visualised myself as a female or a weaker gender, No!
What made you decide that you had to become a doctor someday?
Dr. Sumita Singh: My maternal uncle was a doctor and my mother was very ambitious for us since she got married early and couldn’t complete her education. It was her dream to make all her kids highly educated. In fact, I cleared my 10th at a much younger than usual.
When I was choosing my subjects in the 9th standard, I decided that I want to become a doctor. Out of 5 siblings, 4 of us are doctors - 3 of them being medical doctors and 1 of us a PhD. I am also the eldest amongst all siblings - so they used to consider as an inspiration. I had to become a successful example for them.
When I decided I wanted to become a doctor, it was a rare thing to choose to become a surgeon. My batch was one of the last ones to be selected on merit. All the girls in my class were toppers. Amongst the top 15 students in the class, there were only 4 boys. Many of the girls opted for Gynaecology and Paediatrics. I had a passion for longer work hours - so I chose surgery. There were 2 seats for Masters and both seats were filled in by girls.
The day I decided to become a doctor - it became an acceptable norm for us to separate our personal and professional life. We had to sacrifice some of our personal lives for the work that we have set out to do. This is not just a profession, it is a Pooja. It is sacred. Irrespective of the hardships we have faced, I would still want to become a doctor in my next life. This is a noble profession, there could be a few bad examples but they are rare, generally, most doctors would give their patients' lives and well-being more importance than money.
The best part about being a doctor is that I can do charity even without stepping out of my work zone. I can help people and do good even while I am doing my own practice, my work and my job is a noble service to mankind.
Doctors are becoming more social media-friendly - Have you also become familiar with this space and has it helped in your profession?
Dr. Sumita Singh: No, I have never used social media for my profession. Patients have mentioned to me saying they have read a review about me online and have come to me looking at those positive online comments but I often wonder where these reviews are published because I never read them myself, even though I am a social worker, never got into social media for my work.
I used to like that people mentioned they have seen good reviews about me but I never really got to a point of seeing where and how. I like when people give me a negative remark or tell me where I have gone wrong - because I would like to correct myself and become better at my work.
What is your healthcare routine like and are you able to maintain any off-hours or consistency since you work at erratic hours?
Dr. Sumita Singh: We are a family of doctors; they understand my challenges being from the same profession - my husband as well as my children - one of whom is already a radiologist and the other is interning. During Covid we took special care, we used to wash our clothes in the guest room outside, by hand. Didn’t use the common family washing machine to avoid any chances of infection.
Now, I don’t handle emergency surgeries too often - so I do find some time to go out for a walk and exercise. Earlier as well though, when my kids were young, I used to ensure that I pack their lunches and do those small things any mother would do, all the way till their 12th standard.
It is very difficult to work in the PPE Kit, almost like a punishment. I feel bad for my colleagues who work in Covid wards wearing those head to toe kits for 8-9 hours of duty continuously.
Luckily, I have always had a short 4-5 hours’ sleep - I don’t sleep longer. I do maintain my exercise routine. Whenever there is an emergency, I take time out to speak on the phone those couple of minutes and resolve it and then get back to what I was doing - it doesn’t disturb my personal space. I have made it a part of myself.
I used to set my schedule in such a manner that my kids always had me around whenever they needed me and I used to always make time to do some things I wanted to do as a mother. I did end up ignoring myself sometimes, undoubtedly - I used to miss pampering myself. Not health-wise but yeah, I did miss going for random shopping or to the parlour or for a spa more frequently perhaps like a lot of other women.
DR RISHMA DHILLON PAI is an Honorary Consultant Gynecologist at the Lilavati, Jaslok and Hinduja Health Care Hospitals in Mumbai. She has been in private practice for over 29 years.
She is also the Director of the Pai’s Family Welfare Hospital, which is one of the oldest Family Planning Centres of India. She has done pioneering work in the use of non-surgical MRI guided focused ultrasound for the management of fibroids. She also has the distinction of having delivered a 60-year-old woman, one of the oldest patients in India.
She is the only Indian to have served as President of all the three-leading gynaecological, infertility and endoscopy organizations, The Federation of Obstetric and Gynaecological Societies of India (FOGSI), an organization of 35000 gynaecologists from India, The Indian Society for Assisted Reproduction (ISAR) and the Indian Association of Gynaecological Endoscopists (IAGE).
She is the only Indian selected to be on the board of the International Federation of Fertility Societies (IFFS), an organization of infertility specialists from 68 countries, as the Asst. Treasurer.
She is the President of MOGS (2020-2021) (The Mumbai Obstetric & Gynaecological society)
She has been awarded the esteemed ‘Fellowship honoris causa’ of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, FRCOG, London UK, in the year 2018, one of the few Indians to receive this honour from this prestigious 90-year-old British society.
She has received numerous awards like the Glorious Legend FOGSI 2020 award and the Bharat Nirmal Award for Women Entrepreneurs.
Dr. Rishma Dhillon Pai has launched the YES- Youth Education and Service program, which has offered health checkup and awareness to over 25000 schoolchildren and sensitized 6000 teachers. She has mobilized 1500 gynaecologists from India who have volunteered for free antenatal care services on the 9th of every month.
A doctor’s job is one of precision and near-zero human error. And when you come across one who carries that precision in every word and interaction, you know as a patient you are in safe hands. There is little wonder then, that she has touched newer heights of success every year. Her focus is razor-sharp and she knows her job is nothing less than a mission.
We bring you the best of our conversation with Dr. Rishma Dhillon Pai...
Being a part of the medical fraternity, your practice is an essential service. Were you worried about your family and children getting infected while you dealt with patients during these times? And how did you shield yourself and your family from the disease?
Dr. Rishma Pai: I come from a family of doctors. My husband is an IVF specialist and my son is a resident doctor in gynaecology. Despite that after returning home from the hospital, I take all precautions, discard clothes for washing, shower immediately and try to keep distance even in the house.
There was a shortage of medical equipment, safety gear, PPE kits, masks, etc. when Covid began- How did you manage to keep your staff safe during these times? Were they worried about their health if they stayed back on duty?
Dr. Rishma Pai: As doctors, we could arrange to get most of the safety equipment immediately. We made sure right from the beginning the staff was well protected with modifications made immediately in the clinic. Sanitizers were kept at the entrance for everybody to use. Masks and shields, patients strictly by appointment with no relatives accompanying, windows open for air circulation, use of UV light to sterilize room when not in use were measures that we incorporated. Distancing was maintained strictly.
What tests would you recommend to be regularly taken by a woman who has crossed the age of 40? Are there are any vaccines you think that are essential for women's health?
Dr. Rishma Pai: All women over the age of 40 must-do routine check-up every year. Besides the routine blood test, they should also do a CA125. To do a Pap smear, sonography and mammography regularly are important. Vaccinations are an important protection for women. Young women should take HPV, rubella and maybe chickenpox, hepatitis B vaccination if required. Older women should take the influenza vaccine. During pregnancy vaccination with tetanus, Tdap and influenza are recommended.
Are there any best practices women should follow to keep themselves gynaecologically fit?
Dr. Rishma Pai: It is important for women to keep track of their menstrual cycle. If it is heavy or irregular, they should get their check-up done. Also, weight should be kept in control with good diet and exercise. If there is evidence of hormone change such as acne, excess facial hair etc, it should be checked. Any abdominal pain, intermenstrual bleeding, abnormal vaginal discharge should be checked by a gynaecologist.
You have patients of all ages - Above 50 and below 20 - How does your conversation with each age group change?
Dr. Rishma Pai: As a gynaecologist, we see in our clinic young girls as well as older postmenopausal women. The advice and counselling is always age-appropriate and related to the problem they present with, as well as preventive measures to be taken at that age.
Has awareness grown about means of contraception and which one would you recommend to be the safest for the long-term health of a woman?
Dr. Rishma Pai: Unfortunately, even today proper knowledge about contraception is inadequate. Most women have no practical knowledge about the usage of contraceptives. Most appropriate one for that couple can be selected. This may vary from the oral contraceptive pill, once in three months hormonal injection, intrauterine device or permanent tubal sterilization operation. The option of partner using a condom or getting a vasectomy done is also suggested whenever necessary.
Are you ever able to switch off and take a break from work? What was the longest break you have taken till date after joining the medical profession and how did you spend that time?
Dr. Rishma Pai: I am completely involved with my profession for the last 29 years, not only practising obstetrics and gynaecology but also playing a very strong role in the academic field.
I have had the privilege of being the only gynaecologist to have been the President of the Federation of Obstetric and Gynaecological Societies of India (FOGSI) an organization of more than 35000 gynaecologists from all over India, The Indian Society for Assisted Reproduction (ISAR) an organization of more than 2500 specialists in the field of assisted reproduction and embryology, as well as the Indian Association of Gynaecological Endoscopists (IAGE). I am currently the President of the Mumbai Obstetrics and Gynaecological Society (MOGS) and also served on the board of many international gynaecological organizations. I am also actively involved in teaching other doctors and gynaecologists.
This takes up almost all my time. The only time, I have taken a long break is three months after the delivery of my children.
DR NUPUR GUPTA is the Founder of Well Woman Clinic that offers healthcare solutions for women in all stages of life from adolescence to menopause.
Having a clinical experience of more than 2 decades, she works as the Director in the Department of Obstetrics & Gynaecology at FMRI Gurgaon.
She has been trained in one of the most prestigious research institutes of the country, All India Institute of Medical Sciences, New Delhi. Born and raised in the Pink City of Rajasthan, Jaipur, she combines passion with professionalism in her clinical approach.
She is a doctor, a medical writer, and an academician. More than two decades now in surgery & consultation, she believes in the Human touch with her patients. Her research and public health efforts have been focused on gynaecological cancer screening, high-risk pregnancy, managing PCOS and medical abortion.
Dr. Nupur Gupta is an honorary fellow of Indian College of Obstetrics & Gynaecology & has published over 200 articles in scientific journals, newspapers, contributed chapters in Gynaecology textbooks & conducted numerous health workshops.
She is a recipient of many national & international awards for her publications as well as medical achievements and is passionate about research, training, and teaching.
Intense, passionate, precise and genuinely aware of her surroundings – this is how we would describe our interaction with Dr. Nupur Gupta. She is someone who you would look up to, not just as a doctor but even as a respected family friend. She brings about the ease of conversation with the knowledge of a 100 books.
We bring you the excerpts of our conversation with Dr. Nupur Gupta...
These are unprecedented times and no one could have prepared us for what we have experienced in 2020. How did you keep yourself mentally and emotionally strong through this phase?
Dr. Nupur Gupta: Yes 2020 has brought unprecedented times for all of us, affecting all ages from new-borns to elderly. Humanity wasn't prepared to take it till we realised that there is no choice rather than be united and exhibit our solidarity towards humankind. This time has challenged the healthcare community (doctors, paramedical staff & caregivers) like never before putting their lives at risk for protecting the diseased and affected individuals infected from the coronavirus pandemic. My challenge has been similar with my profession where we not only do elective surgeries but emergency obstetrics & gynaecology care also needs our attention without much preparedness.
To tide over the current ongoing circumstances, I doubled up my physical activity to boost my mental and emotional health, conducting live educational workshops for women health-related issues, spending quality time with kids & helping them cope with the new normal in their study curriculum.
I have also written blogs for healthcare magazines, online health portals (onlymyhealth, HT healthshots, Indian Express, SHOPS, Canwinn Foundation etc), did online video workshops for corporates & women NGOs, started OPD services for PSUs (Public Sector Undertakings) like Powergrid Association of India & RWAs (Resident Welfare Association).
I have also been actively providing online video consults not only in Delhi NCR but also all over India & worldwide across the globe (France, Australia, UAE & California). Collaboration is the key to success. I collaborated with dermatologists, dieticians, physicians, psychologists to give quality care for my clients through combined video calls for effective treatments. I have managed to raise awareness on issues like women's eye health, bone health, reproductive health; also, pregnancy and dental health, pregnancy & micronutrients, pregnancy & Pilates etc.
Polycystic Ovarian Disease has become so rampant due to physical inactivity and current lifestyle, so I conducted numerous online workshops with various experts in nutrition, psychology etc.
How do you keep yourself updated with the information, updates and changing protocols - Is there a way government communicates with you on the regular updates?
Dr. Nupur Gupta: To be updated with the latest recommendations has been my forte ever since I took up medicine. Evidence-based medicine with ethical practice and a two-decade experience in women's health services has helped me tide over this unprecedented crisis.
Government updates have been regular of course but we are also updated from our hospital quality team with the latest protocols regarding measures of protection and prevention.
I also keep myself updated with the latest news from world authorities like WHO (World Health Organisation), CDC (Centre for Disease Control), FIGO (International Federation of Gynecology & Obstetrics). Guidelines from AIIMS (All India Institute of Medical Sciences, New Delhi) & FOGSI (Federation of Obstetric & Gynecology Societies of India). They have been of great help in all regards about the latest guidelines through YouTube live sessions & webinars.
Online health news agencies (Healthwire Media, HT Health Shots, Onlymyhealth) are leaving no stone unturned to disseminate information to not only medical professionals but also public education.
What is your opinion about healthtech start-ups and are they impacting your practice?
Dr. Nupur Gupta: Healthcare start-ups are a must for a growing population. They are a boon to the medical community as well as patients. I have been working with two such companies recently.
First is Medtrail Technologies which is a platform for doctors & healthcare service providers to collaborate and provide a single-window experience to the patient. They have transformed the way we work and digitize our handwritten prescriptions with zero effort to an online format and send to the mobile of patients through artificial intelligence in both formats thus introducing the concept of smart clinics. As a Doctor, I can access medical records of all patients in my mobile app with analytics on prescribed medication & diagnostic tests. It also helps to send educational content to patients in real-time.
Another start-up that I have been working with is Meddo Health. It takes care of all the health needs of our patients under one roof. It is a connected care delivery platform for laboratory services & diagnostic radiology booking. They have transformed healthcare through technology by appointment booking, maintaining electronic health records and sharing reports online.
Did Covid and the subsequent lockdown change your perception about your profession?
Dr. Nupur Gupta: Yes, of course, COVID has come as a threat to us professionally & we need to be always careful while at work as well take precautions while at home. But it has also helped me grow in many ways as far as teleconsultation is concerned & diagnosing emergencies even when you are not able to meet patients in person due to multiple reasons.
We are now mentally prepared to face any adversity that comes to us while at work whether in the clinic or at the hospital.
Coping up during these times has made me stronger & I have also given support & encouragement to others who need our services. My Buddhist practice has helped me cope well & pray for the protection of family and friends.
Did you come across any Covid positive pregnant patients? How was your experience as a Doctor?
Dr. Nupur Gupta: Yes, I did treat two COVID positive pregnancies who were isolated at home & supported them in their ongoing pregnancy journey. They are yet to deliver but have recovered emotionally and physically from the illness as of now.
It seems I have won one battle for them during their toughest times. I can understand their emotions related to how it feels giving birth during a pandemic.
Are young women better informed about concepts of contraception, pregnancy, abortion, and miscarriage? What in your opinion can be done by parents and educational institutions to enhance this awareness?
Dr. Nupur Gupta: Awareness about contraception, pregnancy, abortion, and miscarriage amongst young women is increasing day by day as they also make constant efforts to be updated about their health.
Education about their sexual health is mandatory when they leave school. It better prepares them about their contraceptive choices before their sex life starts. One visit to a Gynaecologist for education on reproductive & sexual health will help them to a large extent in measures to protect against unwanted pregnancy & reproductive tract infections.
We also did a Sexual Health Awareness Campaign with an NGO Girl Up Avtaar from the United Nations that work for women empowerment, education & rights. Another talk with women health workers from Pradan NGO helped them answer their concerns while they spend time working for the poor in villages with remote health facilities.
DR DIKSHA BATRA is the Principal & Founder of The Painfree Dentist.
As an acclaimed dentist with over a decade of experience, Dr. Batra is the Owner of Smile Essentials - 3-time winner of the Times All India Healthcare Award brand. She is fondly called The Painfree Dentist for her pioneering work in making dentistry Painfree.
During COVID, she has been instrumental in establishing safety protocols in the form of videos for dentists across the nation under the aegis of the prestigious Indian Dental Association.
She has been lecturing virtually across the country over the last few months advising dentists on COVID preparedness and getting back to work.
Extensive research and planning have led her to develop training systems and protocols for the dental industry called Dentistry 2.0. She continues to sharpen her training and solutions for safeguarding clinics and spaces from the pandemic.
She has authored a book called “Let’s Reset - Pandemic Proofing Your Dental Practice”.
A Chinese proverb goes, “Use your smile to change the world; don’t let the world change your smile.” But what do you do when that smile is a bit off? We spoke to a beautiful doctor who with her infectious smile and meticulous hands can ensure the smile can be set right – Pain-Free.
Dr. Diksha Batra’s patients lovingly call her the “Pain-free dentist” and we knew instantly why, during our recent conversation with her. Here are the excerpts...
How has this year (2020) been different compared to other years, when most of us had to stay indoors?
Dr. Diksha Batra: This year has changed a lot for us in fact being indoors and having time to ourselves was not all bad! We realized that as a team we could focus a lot more on bettering our systems and really reinventing ourselves inside out. We were able to achieve unfinished goals with time and focus that we had at hand. Our ability to function remotely was unexpected and surprising and led us to create a program for dental teams across the country.
In an effort to help the dental fraternity, we even conceptualized and published a book on new systems needed in the pandemic. Another remarkable thing we noticed that despite being indoors we have never collaborated and connected with more people than this year! To sum it up, we were able to transform a bad situation and help the community from our patients to colleagues in every way we could.
Were there difficult patients who still wanted to see you during this time and what did you do to manage such a situation?
Dr. Diksha Batra: Yes definitely there were and we understood their concern. Parents of young children were most anxious so we devised video and tele-consults to ensure that their needs are met without exposing them to any unnecessary risk. Having said that most people understood and have been patient even to date about any delays and have helped us prioritize emergency pain-related care over elective care like regular follow up and maintenance.
We also ask our patients to be very responsible about disclosing their symptoms and not ignore a mild cold or cough for their own safety, ours, and that of other patients.
As a dentist, your work entails functioning inside your patient's oral cavity- with Covid 19 known to spread most with the droplets from the infected person's nose or mouth, how difficult was it to prepare yourself mentally to go back to your clinic and begin seeing patients again?
Dr. Diksha Batra: We spent most of the lockdown learning to protect ourselves and reading the latest research on the pandemic. For me, I was really waiting to get back as I felt morally responsible to protect my patients and not delay their care.
There was definitely a distinct feeling of fear when I was asking my team to return as I wanted to be sure that I can keep them safe.I had to educate and train them on all the new protocols and we stayed busy on zoom sessions. So, it was intense and we wanted to leave nothing to chance which is why my team and I created our own systems manual which then metamorphosed into my published book “Let's Reset -pandemic proofing your dental practice.”
Could you let us in on some of the Top dental hygiene secrets that many people still don't know?
Dr. Diksha Batra: I have noticed a trend amongst our patients, they have stopped neglecting and started dealing with their problems at the very onset. The lockdown taught us all to look after ourselves better and not take medical care for granted. We also learnt new ways of independently handling our issues when we had no access. Some things that I advised my patients remotely when I couldn’t reach them physically were:
- Using soft-bristled and small-headed motorized brushes.
- Cleaning between teeth is vital with dental floss especially the water flosser which can help clean between teeth without causing any bleeding.
- Not to neglect bad breath and combat it with efficient tongue cleaning.
- Using mouthwash for good gum health, fresh breath and even keeping the virus at bay since a common ingredient in mouthwashes (chlorhexidine is known to deactivate the virus for a significant amount of time).
- Keep some Clove oil handy for any emergency dental pain.
Braces used to be a popular method of re-engineering a smile until a few years ago. Has that changed? And are there better quicker methods?
Dr. Diksha Batra: Braces are and will always remain the mainstay off teeth alignment but as all treatments evolve with technology, how we were aligning teeth yesterday is differing from what we do today. We have many options now to combat the objection of braces looking unappealing and being fixed and slightly uncomfortable. The latest in aligning teeth technologies is invisible braces - removable and see-through - making them very appealing from an aesthetic perspective.
If re-engineering your smile needs more than alignment even then there are options available to change or enhance your existing smile in a matter of hours! Digitally made Veneers and ceramic crowns are some of these options which are now being made with increasing precision and life-like aesthetics.
Have patients become increasingly conscious of their physical appearance over the years?
Dr. Diksha Batra: Yes, we are seeing an unexpected trend in fact people have been more on zoom and video calls looking at themselves all day in work calls. While another important aspect that one of my patients highlighted to me was that now if they need to get their teeth aligned, they are happy to wear braces be it the visible or invisible ones as they are wearing masks most of the time. By the time the masks are off, they will have new smiles!!
Do you get time to yourself and your space? What do you do to unwind?
Dr. Diksha Batra: I carve out the morning time to myself. Waking up at 5 am is an essential part of my routine! I need the uninterrupted morning hours to plan my best days and bring out the best in me! As a dentist or a medical care provider, it’s essential you look after yourself and then show up in your best state for your patients. If we neglect this self-care constantly, we will end up paying the price in either not being able to have the patience and energy needed to look after other people or in sacrificing our own health. So, my morning routine involves meditation, journaling and working on any creative projects that I’m currently involved with and reading or watching videos on topics that I want to learn about.
To unwind, I love watching a good show, catching up on my sleep is another way - I’m a better person when I sleep well, even meeting my family or a loved one really helps me disconnect from the daily trivialities, socializing both online and offline is something that I love. With good conversations and company, I believe you can renew your perspective!
As we reminisce our conversation with each of these powerful ladies, we feel proud that we had the chance to interact with them and hear their side of the story.
The last few months have perhaps been the toughest anyone has seen- especially the medical fraternity and yet their enthusiasm to keep going at their job, which they consider worship keeps us intrigued. As women and as doctors, they epitomize the strength of Maa Durga for us and we hope we were able to cover their stories with the sincerity they deserve. Today on 23 Oct 2020, the auspicious day of Maha-Shaptami - Durga Puja, we make a small effort to celebrate these warriors.
Let the power be with us, all of us.
You were reading a Dais Editorial©2020
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