The Chief Operating Officer/ Director of Medical Services, Apollo Speciality Hospitals, Madurai, Dr.Rohini Sridhar, shares with SOMA BASU her intent to innovate
A smile costs nothing. And Rohini does it with flair. Whether she is meeting poor patients, anxious relatives, demanding staff, high profile corporate honchos, influential politicians, celebrated filmstars… or she is on whirlwind official tours, in the middle of exacting work schedules or nurturing domestic bliss...her warmth rarely fades. The charm was on during the Weekend interview too.
“Your designation gives you an identity. It need not always make you successful. What matters is how you follow. Professional expertise and experience apart, a smile increases the emotional bank balance and provides the warmth and care expected in our field,” the Chief Operating Officer (C.O.O.) and Director of Medical Services (D.M.S.) of Apollo Speciality Hospitals, Madurai, Dr.Rohini Sridhar, breaks into another smile.
I waited a year to interview this “rank outsider” who is now a decade old in the city. “I am 85 per cent Maduraiite today,” she says albeit reluctantly, but it is the locals who recognize her as a person wearing many hats. Undoubtedly, Rohini has risen through the ranks in Asia's largest healthcare conglomerate.
She as a choice for the International Women's Day (March 8) underlines her killer career and an enviable public life given her dual post of importance and responsibility at one of the top hospital chains of the world. Yet, it is this twin role as a physician and an administrator that can appear contradictory to an outsider. But surely not to her bosses, who consciously chose to designate Rohini with credentials that required her to juggle regulatory pressures and clinical practices. And bereft of any experience, she did so with aplomb of a seasoned performer.
I flip open my questions wondering what traits characterize women like Rohini who have reached upper echelons, in a till hitherto male bastion. “You have to be successful to triumph. And competence is the most crucial aspect of success than just luck or being liked merely,” she returns, admitting, however, that she did “happen to be at the right place at the right time” too.
Caught that she was in the social constructions of gender and leadership, Rohini did a lot of balancing act when she joined as Medical Superintendent (MS) in 2000. “It was a question of building credibility, being tactful and getting accepted among the 200-odd Consultants, majority of them who were senior to me, and a large workforce that looked up to administrative expertise to manage them. My Tamil was not good and I had no formal training in management,” she recalls.
This quiet and studious teacher's pet bred in Mumbai and Baroda is self-directed and methodical. She graduated from school to medical college with her academic progress always remaining steady. Notwithstanding her personal tribulations, hard work and the desire to succeed, she feels “family, friends, professional peers provide the wisdom and support needed to lead with excellence.” “I am more articulate and confident now,” she does not hide.
With her family roots in Thanjavur, Rohini landed in Delhi post-marriage and instead of sitting idle chose to write the PG exam at All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS). A seat in Pathology motivated her to complete the course.
After putting three years of service in Haematology at the Apollo Hospitals in Chennai, she followed her husband, Sridhar, to Australia. While he was on a Cardiology (Heart Transplant) Fellowship, Rohini took the Fellowship of the Royal College of Pathologists of Australasia.
Three years later, the couple landed straight from Melbourne to Madurai. “Both of us were 10 years younger and it excited us to be handling our units independently, Sridhar in Cardiology and I came as the MS.”
Ever since, Rohini has been learning and putting in place systems. Enthusiasm for individual patient care and medical management on the whole has reduced her clinical practice, but she feels “more empowered now and also rooted to ground reality.”
“Women bring with them a different way of leading. The unique abilities of women like good inter-personal and conflict resolution skills, building a good team, flexible nature, high on tolerance and a good listener are required,” she reflects.
The biggest challenge for health care today, she feels, is that not all good doctors make good administrators and not all good administrators understand the sensitivity of medicare. The patchy healthcare with big islands of excellence and pockets of poor health care also worries her.
Though she was promoted as the DMS within six years, Rohini is continuously fathoming the dynamics of evolving health care delivery and management. Not only does she assist in the oversight of infection control surveillance and quality improvement analysis but also lends herself to establishing a professional and caring culture in the organization.
Under her tenure, the hospital has grown from 80 to 300 beds with the occupancy rate going up from 20 to 87 per cent. What adds to her persona is that she keeps a finger on the pulse of the current buzz and concerns by making regular daily rounds, spending time with staff, patients and their families and noting ground level issues.
She has been responsible for identifying opportunities for improvement, adding speciality sub-acute services, getting global accreditation, drawing up guidelines for doctors and working on good business deals.
Every word Rohini utters, is punctuated with her respect for the “Apollo culture of no compromise in technology and quality care”. And, that often leads her to difficult situations when people come seeking waivers. But what she feels intensely about is her daily interaction with people and their joy on being cured.
“I will never forget this nine year old Kumbakonam fire tragedy girl, who underwent prolonged treatment with us. On the day of discharge, she revealed her desire of becoming a neurosurgeon. It reaffirms how our staff touches lives and the treated strike an emotional chord with us.”
As a medico, reading comes naturally to Rohini. Her unfailing 30-minute reading every night from fiction to management, economics to health is her obsession. Her day starts at 6 with a run on the treadmill and she is on her toes practically for the next 12 hours. If she is in town and not at multiple functions as chief guest, she loves to spend her evenings with the family.
A veena player, carnatic music and bharatanatyam student that she has been, Rohini feels such creative directions have helped her to retain gentler and values-oriented, integrative approach to leadership. “I am a movie buff too,” she smiles, pointing out how much she misses a good book shop and general trendy shopping zones in the city.
But what gives her immense satisfaction is the growth of the hospital in the last decade. “Though career mapping is essential, I have gained by networking with others and learning from mentors, keeping a positive attitude and believing in myself, establishing priorities and envisioning strategies,” says this old student of Rosary High School, Baroda.
She mentions her school with pride because the 2009 Chemistry Nobel Laureate, Venkatraman Ramakrishnan is also an Alma Mater of the same school.
After MBBS from Maharaja Sayaji Rao University, Baroda in 1990, Dr.Rohini Sridhar did MD (Pathology) from AIIMS, Delhi, and DNB, Pathology. On her return from Melbourne with FRCPA (Haemotology), she joined as Consultant Haematolgist, at Apollo Hospitals in Chennai.
She was appointed as Medical Superintendent, Chief of Laboratory Services in Madurai in 2000, made the Director (Medical Services) in 2006 and given additional charge as Chief Operating Officer in 2008.
Dr.Rohini has several papers published in medical journals. She has undergone Hospital Management Programme of Singapore Management University in 2008 and a Senior Management programme at Indian Institute of Management, Bangalore in 2001.
She is a member of the Indian Society of Haematology and Blood Transfusion, Indian Medical Association, Convenor, Healthcare Panel, (2009 - 2010 ) Confederation of Indian Industry – Madurai.
With her at the helm of Apollo Speciality Hospital (ASH), Madurai, the hospital has grown in bed strength and added several specialities including comprehensive cancer care with state-of-the-art equipment, hand and reconstructive microsurgery and interventional neuro-radiology.
The Madurai branch is the first hospital in the Apollo Group, the second in Tamil Nadu and the 29th in the Country to obtain the prestigious National Accreditation Board for Hospitals and Healthcare certification.
It has won the Good Industrial Relations Award among all industrial units in the State for 2005 and 2007; and “The Gem of South Tamil Nadu” from CII, Madurai, 2008
The ASH, Madurai, has conducted nearly 150 free heart surgeries for children in the past four years under its SACH (Save a Child's Heart) programme.
It also coordinates with The Apollo ICU at Pamba, Sabarimala, providing free out and in-patient services to the Sabarimala pilgrims for the past 10 years. Over 1,50,000 pilgrims have availed of the facilities and several have received life-saving treatment.
Outreach Programme with Kasturba Hospital, Gandhigram - consists of regular camps in villages wherein patients identified receive free medicines and specialist consultations through telemedicine facility. Over 5000 patients have benefited so far.
Apollo Outreach at Karur is likely to be operational by next month-end while Apollo Outreach at Karaikudi is getting kicked off. All these centres come under Dr.Rohini's jurisdiction.