To learn and grow is an evolutionary process, embedded in our very nature. One does not simply cease to learn when they have graduated from school or college. We continually expand our knowledge throughout life, as we encounter new people and experiences. Dr Sharmila Anand strongly believes in educating others, facilitating positive transformation and empowerment. As Leo Buscaglia said, “Change is the end result of all true learning.” Dr Sharmila shares her personal beliefs and professional journey of seeking to help others reach their full potential.
“Service with a smile is what my parents swore by. It seemed like a beautiful journey, where service to humanity was the only agenda.”
Growing up in India, how did your cultural environment shape you into the person you are today?
India is very rich in diversity. You can find people who speak different languages in every nook and corner. From an early age, I was taught to be respectful to everyone, regardless of their age, caste, or creed. This helped me immensely as a doctor, as I saw the patient for who they were, not for where they come from or which religion they belong to. It also led me to look at this from an educational standpoint. I believe that a person’s socioeconomic status should not be a deterrent to what they want to achieve in their professional life.
My country respects women and puts them on a high pedestal. We call our country the motherland, where we worship many female goddesses and give them the utmost attention. We have been progressive enough to see female prime ministers, chief ministers, and other cabin ministers. Ironically, my country is the same country which bans sex determination for fear of foeticide — I have been dazed and confused by this ironic situation.
Not knowing whether there is a glass ceiling or not, I was fortunate enough to be able to travel and study, after becoming a mother – this opened me up to immense possibilities. I was determined to bring back that experience to India. Women in my country often must make a choice… either you raise a family, or you build a career. I wanted both. While it looked like an aggressive step from the outside, all I was doing was showing my daughter that she could have her cake and eat it too.
What inspired you early on to become a doctor and join the healthcare profession?
In India there is a saying that parents only consider medicine and engineering to be the two career fields that their kids can choose. However, jokes aside, healthcare was my playground growing up; it was the only thing I knew. My parents were well-reputed doctors in the southern part of India. Their clinic and hospital would often be overfilled with patients seeking healthcare. I distinctly remember seeing the look of concern and dismay on their faces when they entered the hospital, then the sheer relief when their medical issue was resolved. Service with a smile is what my parents swore by. It seemed like a beautiful journey, where service to humanity was the only agenda. This truly inspired me to want to join the healthcare force and follow in my parents’ footsteps. “I want to be a doctor like my parents when I grow up.” A childlike dream I had soon turned into a deep want, to assist people and empathise with them as a teenager, then to later enter the healthcare sector in college where my love for it grew tenfold.
Leading up to the end of your time as a medical doctor, what drove you to become an entrepreneur?
By the time I finished medicine, I was married and was expecting my baby. This prevented me from continuing to practice as a doctor, due to complications related to my pregnancy. I sat at home for two years after that and drove myself, and everyone around me, crazy! I knew I had to get myself out there again, which is when I got an opportunity to do an MBA in healthcare from the US. It was a challenge to leave my three-year-old behind, but that decision changed the trajectory of my life.
I understood how much more there was to healthcare. Patient care was just the forefront of this. I made it my mission to make healthcare:
I wanted healthcare to reach the unreached population of India, where every individual would have the basic right and access to healthcare. I soon realised that skills training would empower and transform the lives of the providers, as well as the patients. That is where my medical entrepreneurship journey began. I started working with leading national and international universities to find global solutions for local problems.
Have you faced any adversity as a successful businesswoman?
While more than 70% of the global healthcare workforce is comprised of women, only a minor percentage sit on top as healthcare leaders. I have had to break the glass ceiling time and time again, with a broad smile on my face. I did this to show my daughter, and the daughters of the country, it was possible too – they could do well in their professional careers and in their personal lives. They did not have to choose one or the other. As much as I have faced challenges, I have also been fortunate enough to gain immense support from my mentors, colleagues, and staff. They were there to either pick me up after a fall or give me their giant shoulders to see the world from a better viewpoint.
When I started my career, I was riddled with mum guilt. I kicked myself for not being able to spend enough time with my daughter and was constantly worried about her well-being. At the end of the day, I am an entrepreneur, so I decided to find a solution to the biggest problem in my life. How exactly? I started a venture called ‘Parentteening‘ with my daughter Ashile, where she herself became an entrepreneur at the age of 14. What started as a way for us to spend time together, soon grew to be larger than us both. We went on to help over 10,000 young children unleash their full potential through personal development programmes.
You work with a vast number of universities to promote global opportunities and experiences for students- how does it benefit the students?
Enabling students to find their footing in the real world, by exposing them to various new people, cultures, and customs, helps them to gain a broader perspective in life. I sent my daughter to a short-term learning programme at Harvard. In those ten days that she spent in Harvard, interacting with the students, learning from their faculty, and immersing herself in that culture, I saw a different person return home. A more vibrant, confident, positive individual, who was ready to take on the world. This was exactly what I wanted to see happen, a transformation for all my students. It worked wonders! Many of the students who have gone through these learning experiences with me, have gone on to accomplish many remarkable things, such as writing research papers, gaining admission into reputable colleges like Johns Hopkins.
I believe that the world is your classroom. Real life experiences tend to teach you more valuable lessons than any course you can take in college. I call myself a lifelong global learner because education has gotten me to where I am today. Through my career I have discovered that learning does not stop once you have graduated, in fact, that is when the real lessons begin.