He’s A Surgeon, No Kidding
Dr Jagdish Chaturvedi, ENT surgeon-author-innovator-stand-up comedian, talks about life, and what makes him tick.
ENT surgeon, innovator, author, stand-up comedian… Which role is the most fulfilling?
Being a doctor surgeon is the most fulfilling, as I find myself useful in directly improving the lives of my patients by treating them for their ailments. This is what I have always wanted to do and have never stopped doing. Being an innovator to develop medical devices is just a way for me to maximise the care I can provide for my patients. Writing books and sharing new things I learn is a way for me to give back to the community and performing comedy is my way of living my passion.
You are an innovator who has been featured in MIT Technology Review’s list of 35 Innovators Under 35 in 2016. What drives you towards inventing powerful, yet affordable, medical devices?
I never set out to be an innovator as part of a plan or vision. My first invention was a device that could visualize the insides of the ear, nose, and throat through direct portable video-endoscopy. When I traveled to rural areas, I could not examine the throat of patients adequately with just laryngeal mirrors and a headlamp. I wanted a portable endoscopy tool, which had to be imported and was expensive. I ended up making one myself for less than INR 10,000 (vs the standard endoscopy video-recording tools that cost up to lakhs of rupees). Once I realized that I could make the equipment I needed and learned the right way to do it, I went on to develop numerous other devices to help me in my clinical practice.
Your comic performances often make light of failure. Would you say that is the motto with which you approach life?
Growing up as a person with the innate ability to make mistakes due to my impatient, aggressive nature of acting before I fully think, I have put myself in numerous embarrassing and complicated situations. Yet, I figured a way to get out of them with a positive outcome. This made me realize that allowing myself to be me, and giving myself the freedom to fail, made me a stronger person with better coping skills that built my creativity which was required to survive the outcomes of my mistakes. This has played a huge role in everything that I have done. All the three books I have authored are themed around failing first, failing fast and failing cheap (Inventing Medical Devices: A Perspective From India, The Benefits of Failing Successfully and One Year of Stand Up Comedy). So my motto is to allow myself to be me without any restrictions or fear of failure.
You have chosen to do multiple things in life, which are as different as chalk and cheese. How difficult (or easy, for that matter) is it to focus and find time for all you want to do?
I wanted to become an actor as a child and have been acting in plays since the age of 7. But acting as a career was very difficult to sustain; so I worked towards becoming a doctor and when I eventually did, I felt helpless in treating patients the way I wanted to, and so I ventured into inventing devices. While inventing, I realized that our ecosystem in India is not designed for innovation, and therefore, decided to write about it. Pursuing dramatics while being a doctor, innovator and author were hard to balance; so I moved to the more flexible format of stand up comedy recently. I follow the sole principle of flexibility. I work as a visiting consultant at various hospitals and as a clinical advisor or consultant to start-up companies. This allows me to work on my time. Some months I have a busy clinical practice while sometimes, I am aggressively inventing and developing devices with 3-4 companies. I perform stand up comedy during the weekends or when I am traveling for conferences or surgeries. When I need to write a book, I take a week off and write one. So it has not been very difficult for me to do what I want to since I have taken control of my time. Yes, the income has been variable and unpredictable, but that’s the price I pay for being myself and I don’t regret it.
At 33, you are already a very accomplished achiever. Are there areas you would like to foray into next?
I’ve noticed off late that many people, especially doctors, are now open to the idea of making something new, being entrepreneurial. But what is lacking in our Indian healthcare ecosystem today is the connect to cross-disciplinary teams, and professionals to build these new solutions. Doctors reach out to me asking me where can they find engineers and engineers reach out to me asking if I can connect them to clinicians. While I play the role of Cupid wherever possible, it’s not scalable. So I am developing a software application called HiiiH that will help connect different disciplines for the sole purpose of professionally working in a team to develop new healthcare solutions. I hope that HiiiH will bridge talents and enable a larger volume of impactful innovations that can solve our healthcare problems.
“I FOLLOW THE SOLE PRINCIPLE OF FLEXIBILITY. I WORK AS A VISITING CONSULTANT AT VARIOUS HOSPITALS AND AS A CLINICAL ADVISOR OR CONSULTANT TO START UP COMPANIES. THIS ALLOWS ME TO WORK ON MY TIME.”Dr Jagdish Chaturvedi ENT surgeon-author-innovator-stand-up comedian
How do you unwind?
I unwind with my family (wife Soumya Parameshwaran and 2-year-old son Neel Chaturvedi) who are typically on the edge because of my erratic lifestyle. I take a short holiday with them every few weeks and a big vacation every few months to unwind and to keep my marriage alive.
What would you describe as a defining point in your life that determined the kind of person you would be?
The defining moment for me was when my boss and guru Dr. Ravi Nayar (Senior ENT professor during my training days) mentored and guided me to do what I wanted. As a trainee, he allowed me to do the multiple things I wanted to do and faced a lot of negativity from my colleagues and teachers for allowing me to be a ‘brat’. It gave me the taste of what it felt like being myself and gave me the courage to be on my own and leave a fulltime job. Since then I haven’t turned back.
Your best opening line. The one that gets you the most laughs…
I was born in Bangalore, raised in traffic. What is your recipe for happiness? Identify the ingredients that make you happy. Whatever makes you feel useful and meaningful. Do whatever it takes. It’s worth it.