Dr. Mahipal Singh Sachdev (CFS) in IncIndia
A secure job at AIIMS, India’s leading hospital, and being a pioneer surgeon was not enough for Dr Mahipal Sachdev. He wanted to be more than a doctor. So, although his family advised him not to, Sachdev listened to his inner voice and left the safe environment of AIIMS to join the insecure world of entrepreneurship in 1996. Since then, he has grown Centre for Sight into a second largest ophthalmology chain, projecting a turnover of `125 crore this year. Since I was a child, I’ve always tried to do more than what’s required of me. In school, I was not only a bright student but also did well in sports and extra-curricular activities. After completing my schooling from Modern School, I studied medicine at All India Institute of Medical Science (AIIMS). I loved the subject of medicine, and really threw myself into it. Fortunately, I kept going up the rungs of an academic career, and became one of AIIMS’s youngest associate professors in 1986. While pursuing my MBBS, I had developed a keen interest in surgery. I also wanted to pursue a branch of medicine which wasn’t a competitive battlefield. And, I was eager to jump right in. I didn’t want to have to further super-specialise. Ophthalmology caught my eye. It seemed a good fit for my references. Although it was a niche segment, say when compared to cardiology, a lot of development was appening around here at that time, especially in laser technology. So, I eventually specialised in cataract surgery, contact lens, refractive surgery (laser vision correction) and cornea transplantations. After teaching at AIIMS for three years, I went to the US in 1989 for a year for a fellowship from Georgetown University, Washington and learnt phacoemulsification. This was cutting-edge technology for removing cataract. In spite of its many advantages of being a stitchless surgery, that is less invasive and has a reduced recovery period, it was prac-tised by only three or four doctors in India. It was considered a very risky, high-speed operation. It required intense coordination on the part of the surgeon because any slight error could cause potential damage to the eye. But, because of its numerous advantages, I latched on to this technique. Not only did I learn it, I travelled extensively throughout India providing demonstrations and training doctors in this new skill I had acquired. This technique became an instant success with patients too. My experiences with this defined my career in those times. In fact, I also authored Phacoemulsification: A Practical Guide, the first book on phaco by an Indian doctor in 1996. It quickly became the Bible for doctors who wanted to learn this surgery. Though I had established myself as a successful phaco surgeon, I was driven by setting up an institution that would be the last word in ophthalmology. Being part of a system of an institution, like AIIMS, does not give one much leeway to experiment. In 1996, after teaching there for nine years, I ventured into private practice against my family and friends’ advice. I also got a parttime consultancy job at Indraprastha Apollo Hospital. I took a small room on rent at Cure Clinic in south Delhi to set up the first Centre for Sight clinic. It was a tough move. I remember even today how disoriented I felt the first few days. Doctors aren’t taught the “b” of business administration. But, as a private practitioner, I not only had to perform an operation, but ensure all administrative issues and logistics were in place. The only reason I could retain my calm was the knowledge that I have the required skill set to be a good ophthalmologist. I was keen on the risk, for it proved to be worth it. I also made a project report detailing the investment required, and the surgeries I aimed to do. I had projected to perform 30 surgeries a month by the end of my second year of practice, but I could accomplish that in the very first month itself. This furthered my belief that I could build this clinic into an institution. You have to believe what you are doing is right for you. Consciously, I chose not to associate Centre for Sight with my name. If the clinic is christened after the doctor’s name, it means his or her ego is bigger than the practice. It also creates barriers for other doctors to join in. “Depersonalising” the clinic worked in my favour. Early on, I could get four doctors from AIIMS who were super specialists in different parts of the eye to join me. As an entrepreneur, building a strong human resource team and attracting the best talent is a critical role to play. It’s not enough to just employ doctors and give them higher salaries. We equip and train them to grow academically, and intellectually as well. This approach of widening their horizons and giving them more opportunities has enabled us to attract the best doctors. For example, at Centre for Sight, even junior doctors can use all the expensive equipments in our clinic. Many government and other private hospitals prohibit his. But, when you want to grow, it’s very important to be broad-minded and to delegate responsibility. You can’t put in controlled access situations. The same belief extends to our patients. Frequently, we refer our patients to other doctors if they are better equipped to help them. Medicine isn’t about arrogance. It’s not humanly possible for one person to be able to do every-thing on his or her own. It takes immense hard work, efficiency, compassion and precision to build a thriving enterprise. When you work in health, your responsibilities are manifold. Just being good at your job isn’t enough. It’s crucial to give patients honest advice and deliver promised results to win a patient’s trust. I firmly believe we have managed a CAGR of 45 per cent for the last 15 years which would not be possible without offering the best services and treatment. The biggest milestone for Centre of Sight was to open its branch at Safdarjung Enclave in south Delhi in 2004. It was the largest private facility in ophthalmology at that time and it turned around things for us. People started recognising our brand. In 2008, we decided to spread our wings and establish a centre every ten miles so patients don’t have to travel far to reach us. We ensured all our branches maintained the same standard for quality and technology. Two years later, we were able to raise our first round of funding of `50 crore by Matrix Partners. Having exhausted most of that on our expansion, we are now working on raising a second round for around $30 million. The ability to attract these investments gives us a lot of confidence. Today, we are the second-largest ophthalmology chain in the world with around 44 centres across India—right from Jammu in the north to Rajahmundry, Andhra Pradesh in the south. Multiple centres make sense economically, reducing our break-evens as we set up more branches. We also have the largest lasik network with 23 lasik machines across Asia, Australia and the Middle East. We have recently acquired 60,000 sq ft of land in Dwarka, Delhi to set up a compositeophthalmology facility, which will have teaching, research and an eye hospital, all under one roof. It will be the largest such facility in north India. Over the next three years, we intend to set up ten new centres every year. Though we want to become a truly pan-India player, there is a lot of opportunity to impact conditions overseas as well. Large parts of Africa, Nepal, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh are still underserved by ophthalmology. Acknowledgement by society and recognition by peers is the reward I cherish the most. Getting the Padma Shri award in 2007 was the highest accolade bestowed on me. Such appreciation from society and colleagues motivates me to work harder,for the journey is long.
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