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'I Feel Guilty If I Buy Expensive Things. That Money Could Have Saved Lives.'

Dr Devi Shetty, Cardiac surgeon. Chairman, Narayana Health. Padma Bhushan awardee

'I Feel Guilty If I Buy Expensive Things. That Money Could Have Saved Lives.'
Photograph by R.A. Chandroo
'I Feel Guilty If I Buy Expensive Things. That Money Could Have Saved Lives.'
  • Put your heart and soul into medicine or don’t be a doctor.
  • The best treatments mean nothing if most people can’t afford them.
  • Only until we are short of medical colleges will quality suffer.


Only join medical college if you are passionate about medicine. If there’s the slightest doubt in your mind about whether medicine is for you, please don’t embrace this challenging field. You need to put your heart and soul into it or you won’t do justice to yourself or soc­iety. And if you are passionate, please, never give up.

A solution that is not affordable is no solution. As a young doctor, I was fascinated with exc­iting developments in healthcare that can transform human lives. I was amazed by the outcomes of heart surgeries and the way patients recover and return to normal life. When I ret­urned from England with all enthusiasm and excitement to change the world, reality struck. I realised it is pointless to boast about modern developments in heart care or cancer treatments if 90 per cent of India cannot afford those treatments. This changed my entire future strategy.

It made me feel responsible and respect money. I realised charity is not scalable but good business principles are. Also, if there is no money, then there is no mission. Today, I try to lead a frugal life even though I can afford many luxuries that money can buy.  I feel guilty when I buy an expensive shirt or trousers as that money might save a few lives. I guess this thought process made me a better human being and a better doctor.

All doctors must read medical journals and update themselves with rec­ent developments. With the internet, any new procedure anywhere can be seen by doctors worldwide in no time. In the good old days, I had to travel across the world to watch surgeons operate and learn new tricks. Today, I can be in my bedroom and watch those operations on my mob­ile phone. Today is a great time for doctors to improve themselves.

India is desperately short of 500 new medical colleges. The quality of medical education should be better. There is an acute shortage of medical seats and colleges—irrespective of what trash is thrown at medical students there. Students have no choice but to accept the colleges as they are. Once a large number of medical colleges come up, when students will have choice, things shall change. That is the only way we will be able improve medical education. As long as there is shortage, we will never be able to enforce quality.

Medicine was always tough as a profession and it will remain so. To those who seek work-life balance, I strongly recommend they do not join this profession. After our hard work, seeing a child’s smiling face and his glowing parents is our ultimate gift. Nothing in this world is as precious as human life. God has given us an opportunity to make a big impact on human lives. I wouldn’t trade my current position for anything in this world. Even if I am born a hundred times again, I would still like to be a doctor. I would want to keep touching and treating pat­ients, trying to be a hero in their life. This is the joy of being a doctor, who can be a hero in real life.

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