03 Nov 2017
4 min read
Dr Bishal Dhakal is a doctor, entrepreneur and philanthropist. When Dhakal was completing his residency in cardiac surgery in Lahore, Pakistan, he quit everything and returned to Nepal to become a social entrepreneur. Today, he is the founder/CEO of Health at Home Nepal, a healthcare service delivery platform that provides healthcare facilities for hundreds of people.
Dhakal--who has been felicitated with awards like the Youth Leader Award in 2007 and the Surya Nepal Social Entrepreneurship Award in 2012--has always challenged the status quo around him, and tried to leverage every opportunity that has knocked on his door. In this week's Inspire interview, Dhakal talks to VMAG's Gaurav Pote about his journey through the years, how he made the change from being a cardiac surgeon to a social entrepreneur and about Health at Home Nepal. Excerpts:
How do you balance being a medical practitioner and a business man at the same time? How would you define your line of work?
People know me as Dr Bishal Dhakal--that is a title society has given me. Professionally I am a social entrepreneur who is also a medical practitioner. Health at Home Nepal is a service delivery platform that we started experimenting with some eight years ago. And over the years, we have run it as a social enterprise through which we have a profit-making channel, and a redistribution channel, our Health at Home Foundation, which is our charity foundation.
Paint us a picture of your background. How did you decide on becoming a doctor?
I was born and raised in Janakpur, and went back and forth a lot between Kathmandu and Janakpur when I was a child. I needed to travel a lot for my studies. When I was 16 years old, I went to Kerala, India, for my high-school education. I then went to St Petersburg, Russia, for my medical studies. After that, I did my cardiac surgery residency in Lahore, Pakistan. I come from a family of doctors, and the decision to become a doctor was something that just came to me naturally. However, there was always this feeling that just being a doctor would never satisfy me.
My father has always been one of the most influential people in my life. He was a very socially responsible individual. He was a lawyer, and also the Vice President of the Red Cross in Nepal; he balanced the two roles effortlessly. He would occasionally take me with him to various health camps because of his involvement with the Red Cross. At these camps, I was exposed to what social responsibility means, at a very young age, and there was always this notion in the back of my mind that I had to do something for society. I think it was because of the values my parents instilled in me at such a young age that I always aspired to become a changemaker.
Is that how the idea for Health at Home Nepal came about?
I was in my second year of residency in Pakistan when I began to understand that there was a lack of proper home healthcare services. In Pakistan, I saw that from the total number of patients that came to hospitals, almost 30 to 40 per cent who had been discharged required further healthcare services/assistance. But hospitals weren't able to provide these services because of lack of resources and infrastructure. I then started conducting research about how such facilities could be provided to patients at their homes. I couldn't find examples of such facilities in India or China. This kind of service was not yet available in Asia, and this greatly surprised me. Within a week, I had packed my bags and was back in Kathmandu, knocking on people's doors to bootstrap a project I had full faith in. I saw an opportunity to become a social entrepreneur, along with being a medical practitioner.
It must not have been easy to leave your residency as a cardiac surgeon to become a social entrepreneur. How was the shift?
Becoming a social entrepreneur meant I would not be a practicing cardiac surgeon, but it did not mean I would not be working in healthcare. As a social entrepreneur, I saw the opportunity to blend social work, medicine and profit all in one and the opportunity to at the same time create jobs for other people and solve social problems. I just moved away from working in a hospital to working in a system that I'd built myself, to provide healthcare services to people in a different way. What hospitals were not being able to provide--for aged people, people with disabilities and people recovering from surgeries--I started providing at their own homes. I wouldn't call it shifting gears completely. I left my job as a doctor to take up the responsibility to become a leader in a different area of healthcare.
Tell us more about Health at Home Nepal.
Health at Home Nepal is an out-of-the-hospital healthcare service provider, which provides a range of care services for patients--from general nursing care to critical care for severely ill patients and long-term, chronically ill patients. We also provide care facilities like counselling for patients, physiotherapy services, monthly prescription-drug delivery, etc. We are a full-fledged health-care service provider caring for more than 200 or so patients.
What were the challenges that came with starting Health at Home Nepal?
My work has always been about changing the status quo. After working in Pakistan, I realised the shortcomings hospitals here had, and saw how I could help address those shortcomings and create a successful business. But as I started work with Health at Home Nepal, I realised there were still other shortcomings to overcome. The nurses I'd hired had their degrees, but weren't, for example, even able to put on diapers on patients. Clients were paying Rs 70,000 to 80,000 for our services, but I couldn't find competent nurses who could deliver basic services. Instead of searching for competent nurses, I started to train unemployed women to become care givers. This, I believe, has helped generate jobs for a lot of women. It was a challenge to find human resources, but we made it work.
Clearly your initiative has helped people in many ways. But how satisfying has Health at Home Nepal been for you?
The project was something I invested in without knowing what the outcome would be, but over the years, the project has given back to--both me and society--in ways I had never imagined. Through this initiative, we have managed to train more nurses, generate new job opportunities and become market influencers. I have also been honoured with awards like the 2012 Surya Nepal Social Entrepreneurship Award. The initiative sees a 100 per cent return every year, so we are doing quite well financially. But what gives me more satisfaction is the way we have managed to be of service to hundreds of people.
What concerns you about the current scenario of the traditional healthcare sector in Nepal?
We are living in very interesting times. Nowadays, hospitals and doctors have a very bad reputation amongst the public. Personally, I think that is very unfortunate. There are numerous problems with the system in Nepal--from the corrupt education system to our outdated policies to basic doctor-patient miscommunication. I think the solution lies not in merely finding faults in the system, but in thinking of ways to tackle these shortcomings.
Any words of wisdom for young entrepreneurs and startups?
I don't know if I am in a position to advise people, but there is one thing I would urge the young to do: always ask questions. If you want to grow, you have to be able to question how things are run in the world. If you aren't able to see the gaps in society, you will not be able to make a difference.
And you also have to be able to come out of your comfort zones; only then will you do something worthwhile and tackle issues you actually care about. If you really want to prove yourself in life, you have to believe in yourself, keep evolving and make the change happen.
What's next for Dr Bishal Dhakal?
My ambition in life has always been to make sure that my voice is heard, and to solve social problems to make life easier for everyone. I am also very driven by innovation and am always working, and thinking about the future. I have a lot of plans for the future, which will unfold over time. One project that I will roll out in the next six months is a virtual healthcare service plan.