As someone who has left clinical practice, I always feel a sense of kinship with those who have done the same. In my head, I imagine that they experienced the same inner struggles and external disapproval as I did, as they took the leap into unexplored territory. Recently, however, I discovered that I have perhaps been a little too hasty in my assumption.
Earlier this year, I interviewed Dr Sandeep Bansal, Founder and CEO of health tech company Medic Creations. His success has been noted by the release of a number of clinical apps, including ‘The On Call Room’, ‘Your Health Room’ and ‘Medic Bleep’. I asked him about his decision to leave Medicine, and how it impacted him and his family. His answers were, quite frankly, a bit of a surprise…
Name: Dr Sandeep Bansal
Childhood home: Bedford
Medical School: Kasturba Medical College, Manipal, India
Foundation training: Bangor, Wales Deanery
Languages spoken: English, Hindi and Punjabi
Hobbies: Photography and travel
Sandeep’s lifelong link with Medicine
Sandeep’s father was a Cardiologist, but his severe childhood asthma also gave him a lot of personal experience of the NHS.
“I thought it was amazing how the doctors and the team gelled so well, and I just couldn’t think of a better career to have.”
Medical School – sometimes it’s right to walk away
Sandeep chose to study Medicine in India because he liked the diverse and international character of Kasturba Medical College. At first, he absolutely loved his studies, and worked extremely hard, motivated in part by the fact that he was so far away from home.
“I was the first person in the library, and the last person out.”
But, as with so many medics, Sandeep began to feel a bit burned out by his final year, and found he couldn’t remember why he chose Medicine in the first place. What I really respect about Sandeep is what he did next: unlike many medics, instead of pushing on into further exhaustion, he took a six-month sabbatical to spend time with his family and recuperate. He then went back to finish his degree after that.
This fascinated me because it so directly contrasts with my own approach to medical school – I kept going even at points when it really would have been healthier and wiser to take a break, worried that I would labelled as ‘weak’. I admire how Sandeep was confident enough in his judgement to make that call.
Working 100 hours a week!
Sandeep’s first jobs as a doctor in India were by no means easy; as an intern he would often work over 100 hours a week, and the levels of responsibility were huge. Even the seniors had it tough – Sandeep remembers one Consultant who slept in the hospital for five nights in a row! Despite this, he enjoyed the experience, and cites the sense of community around him as his best memory of that time.
“When you’re working that much, the whole hospital knows you, and that feels amazing.”
The NHS culture shock!
When Sandeep moved back to the UK and started working for the NHS, he noticed the marked difference in the way doctors were treated. He told me that, in India, doctors were so highly respected that patients would actually part ways when doctors walked onto the ward!
More importantly, however, the patients there were deeply grateful for everything the staff did for them, whereas working for the NHS seemed a rather thankless task. However, the benefit of the NHS, in comparison to the Indian system, was that it could provide far better resources to those who could not otherwise afford healthcare.
The businessman behind the medic
Sandeep had always been interested in business. Impressively, during his gap year after his A levels, Sandeep assisted in the set up of his father’s successful care home business. Even in medical school, his interest did not waiver; he would read the Economist or the Financial Times for half an hour a day to keep up with the latest in the business world.
“It’s an Indian saying that Bansals have business in their blood!”
After completing his Foundation training, Sandeep considered doing an MBA, but he knew he’d have to do the GMAT, and the cost of a full time course, along with the loss of earnings, made it unfeasible at the time. He also hadn’t yet completed enough years of clinical practice to do an executive MBA – apparently you usually need at least three years, and for the very top courses, at least five years!
Not sure how best to proceed, Sandeep took a year out. True to form, he didn’t waste a moment, and furnished his time with a myriad of different projects, including helping his parents’ with their nursing home, locuming, taking the Royal College exams for Paediatrics, applying for GP training and planning his wedding!
He eventually decided that GP was the best route for him, as his wife at the time was a dentist, and he wanted to support her, as well as having a decent work-life balance. Even then, however, he simply couldn’t take his mind off business.
Business ideas begin to emerge
After being told by so many people that I was ‘wasting’ my medical training by leaving, I put this idea to Sandeep, and asked him whether he thought his 11 years in Medicine were worth anything. His answer was an emphatic affirmative.
“I built such a solid foundation in Medicine. I took all those teachings from professors, colleagues, nurses, patients – I learned the most from patients.”
Sandeep told me that Medicine has helped him to go forward in business because it provided him with problems to solve. Indeed, he got the idea for his app, ‘The On Call Room’, when he found that he was constantly getting bleeped out of Grand Rounds and MDTs. He began to think about how he could facilitate learning by making knowledge bases accessible, which then got him wondering how he could spread clinical expertise internationally.
In India, he saw amazing things done with infectious diseases, while in the UK, areas such as cardiovascular disease took precedence. He decided to put it all in one place, and had ‘The On Call Room’ app made in Chandigarh. He was still practising at this stage, but every four weeks, he would take a week of annual leave to manage the business.
Leaving Medicine for good
In December 2014, Sandeep decided it was time to do his business justice. He liked working as a doctor, spending time with patients and receiving thank you cards, but he realised what he really wanted was to help other doctors to get those thank you cards.
“It occurred to me that I was doing everything for the wrong reasons. I hadn’t been fulfilling my passions.”
Unexpected reactions from friends and family
Ever the people-pleaser, I struggled intensely with the reactions of other people to my career decision, so I was keen to know what it was like for Sandeep. Amazingly, he told me it wasn’t really that tough a decision!
“I had very supportive parents. My Dad even became the seed investor in my business!”
He admits it would have been harder if his parents hadn’t fully supported him, but says he still would have done it anyway. Other relatives thought he was ‘a bit insane’, but seeing how happy he is now, they have warmed to the idea.
As for his colleagues, some of them dismissed his ideas (‘Oh yes, another app!’), but many predicted that health tech would be big in five years and admired him for being able to take that jump.
Sandeep’s path to success has had its difficulties. He’s been through a divorce, and setting up a company in India was logistically very difficult. Once he’d hired a COO and a full tech team out there, however, things started running more smoothly. He still continues to travel to India frequently.
Even in difficult times, Sandeep knew he would not come back to Medicine. He had no nerves about stepping out of the familiar because he fully believed in his vision.
“Even if you fall down and you fail, get up again. Have faith in your knowledge and your abilities.”
Sandeep was the first ex-clinician I met who had a relatively guilt-free transition out of Medicine, and it made me really appreciate the value of having familial, and specifically parental support. Whilst many of my friends and my fiancé supported my career change, my parents’ disappointment and despondency made the process feel somewhat anguished.
It’s true, however, that no one really know how you feel but you. Sandeep left me with some parting advice: don’t get too many opinions from other people – if you want something, just get on and do it.
From a figurative Marathon to a literal one!
As if he wasn’t busy enough, Sandeep is running the London Marathon this year for children’s charity WellChild!
To find out more and donate to this great cause, check out his London Marathon page.