“Spending time with Dr Shetty is like spending time with God.” That’s according to half the people we spoke to in the waiting rooms.
Dr Devi Shetty is one of India’s most well-loved heart surgeons. As the founding chairman of Narayana Health, he runs one of the largest and most affordable health service providers in the world.
In 14 years, the group has built more than 30 hospitals, where 150 major surgeries are performed every day. It has just built a massive hospital in the Cayman Islands that’s aimed at disrupting the US healthcare system.
There’s constant pressure to scale up and sustain profits. But these ambitions are small compared to Dr Shetty’s higher goal: to revolutionise healthcare in India and around the world, by bringing together quality, affordability and profitability.
Since becoming Mother Teresa’s personal doctor decades ago, Dr Shetty has made it a policy for his hospitals not to turn away any patient who cannot afford the price of surgery.
On any given day, hundreds of people pack into two large rooms, waiting to see him. A typical session with him takes about five minutes.
We see a 12-year-old girl enter Dr Shetty’s room accompanied by three family members. In the first minute, he studies the girl’s file and makes his first decision. “She needs surgery, urgently,” he tells them, adding that the heart bypass procedure costs US$1,500. (A similar surgery at the Mayo Clinic in the US costs north of $100,000).
“How much?” asks the mother, worry etched on her face.
Dr Shetty tells her the amount, even as he glances at their clothing, listens to their rural forms of speech, and notes the cracked ballpoint pen held by the father. By the third minute with the family, he’s made his second decision. “The hospital’s foundation will cover the cost,” he tells them, as he pats the patient, sitting just inches from him, on the shoulder.
The girl starts to cry. The mother gets up from her seat, walks around the table, and begins kissing first Dr Shetty’s hands, and then his feet. The father looks stunned with gratitude.
Then one of Dr Shetty’s three assistants ushers the girl, her parents and her uncle out of the sunlit office. Another assistant ushers in a new family for a new five-minute cycle.
Repeat this up to 100 times a day. Repeat daily. And that is how this man has been living his life since he started his remarkable hospital system.
What drives him? “We grossly underestimate the power of purpose,” he says. “When we are sure, when we are convinced, about the purpose of our action, everything else becomes a minor detail.”
He explains that the doctors in the hospital are so committed that hardly any of them leave. “It has nothing to do with the personality called Devi Shetty. It is the purpose for which I stand for,” he says.
What Dr Shetty accomplishes with apparent ease can be extremely hard for many of us. Some of us regret the years we have invested in soul-sucking jobs. We feel that our talents, skills and values don’t match what the organisation requires of us. We work for the pay while silently disagreeing with the company’s aims or products. Or we simply do what we do because our parents told us to.
Some people, like Dr Shetty, seem to know deep in their bones what their purpose is. For others, finding personal purpose is especially tough. But that shouldn’t stop us from looking. On the contrary, we must keep looking.
We can start by asking ourselves such questions as: What are my core values? What is my higher purpose in life?
This could set us off on a journey where we can seek out and work with people and organisations who share a similar purpose and share our values. And if we believe in an organisation’s purpose, we will naturally do what it values most because it affirms what we value most.
That is what we saw at Narayana Health and it is how Dr Shetty and his organisation are attempting to revolutionise healthcare in India and around the world.