Swimming with diversity: Australian Healthcare Week

By Indranil Halder

Recently,  I visited Australian Healthcare Week(AHW) exhibition at International Convention Centre, Sydney. It was amazing to watch, some of the 150 Australian Healthcare Solution Providers (AHSP) are swimming with diversity.

My understanding of Australian Healthcare Sector: 

Working in the healthcare sector, for nearly two decades, I have always visit many industry educational events such as Diabetes Symposium for Healthcare professionals by Baker Heart and Diabetes Institute in Melbourne or General Practice Conference & Exhibition (GPCE) exhibition in Sydney or medical/pharmaceutical company conference in Gold Coast. AHW has been my favourite.

In 1992,  the very first time,  I worked  with Australian healthcare professionals assisting patients at Nirmal Hriday Hospice(Mother Teresa, Sisters of Charity, Kolkata, India). In Australia,I have attended anatomy practicals in state of the art anatomy lab at University of Wollongong,  prepared monthly sales reports for HSP and recruited key opinion leaders to introduce new therapies. Such has been my educational and professional life since 1994.

According to Australia’s Department of Health, government’s investments in health includes $132 billion in 2022–23, increasing to $140 billion in 2025–26, with a total commitment of $537 billion over the next four years’.

The sector is based on government subsidies, patient care innovations with continuous technology upgrades and maintenance of safety standards.  Regulatory body-Therapeutic Good Administration (TGA) maintains high safety  standards and is a bacon of light for neighbours:  Asia, South America and Africa. With medical centres, pharmacies, emergency services and hospitals, Australian healthcare requires manpower in a large number. In 2015, according to Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, Government of Australia update, ‘over 100,000 medical practitioners were registered. And around 88,000  of those were employed in medicine’. They also include healthcare professionals(HCP) of Indian origin.

Indian HCP phenomenon : 

In 2022, free trade agreement between Australian and Indian governments is exploring possible options to recognise Indian qualifications in Australia. At the same time, Indian specialists  are receiving training in specific Australian healthcare areas such as paediatric cardiologist (WestMead Hospital) and  Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences, Macquarie University interns  are gaining  training at Apollo Hospital, India. And India returned international student from Australia’s Ballarat University own Biocon Limited and Biocon Biologics Limited, billion dollar  biopharmaceutical companies.

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In 2015, the number of medical practitioners with initial Indian medical degree working in Australia was 4,771 according to Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, Government of Australia. Indian doctors have been migrating  to Australia from 1960s. So did radiologists, intensive care specialists, physicians, surgeons, trainee doctors and nurses  from India, Africa and UK. Often time poor, their goal have been to work in ‘areas of need’ with chronically shortage of doctors in Australia. Second generation of Indian Australians as HCP are also growing as many graduating with medical degrees in Australia are becoming cardiologists, dentists or endocrinologists.

Today, new medical schools in NSW state  such as Graduate School of Medicine, Uni of Wollongong and School of Medicine and Public Health- The University of Newcastle are also experiencing huge number of Indian Australian students amongst others.

Indian doctors are also holding senior positions as the Deputy Executive Director, Medical Services, Hospital and Health Services , Federal President of the Australian Medical Association (AMA) or opening first private Emergency Specialist Clinic.

On the other hand Australia’s love  for Indian healthcare professionals is so blind that in 2017, BBC News reported , ‘Fake doctor’ worked in Australia for 11 years , highlighting Shyam Acharya who stole certain doctor’s name and qualifications in India before moving to Australia. He worked as doctor in Australian hospitals from 2003- 2014.

Australian Healthcare Week celebrates diveristy: 

Australian Healthcare Week (AHW) provides the ultimate opportunity for me  to observe Indian origin personnel on the exhibition stands for AHSP. As key healthcare decision-makers, including clinicians and executives from  digital health and innovation and nurses made their way, my observations focused on :

  1. Monocultural  No More
  2. Improving Multicultural Understanding
  3. Swimming with Diversity

Monocultural No More: 

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When I joined pharmaceutical sales team, there were hardly any Indian origin territory manager or sales representatives. May be due to  mono cultural nature of team,  personnel from diverse background was perceived as a threat.  In between my jobs, I kept learning about medical sales business across the globe too. It was lack of knowledge. As a diverse personnel, team culture seems mono cultural, a political minefield and just a Token Minority Hire(TMH).

During  my MBA project, I meet Dr. Udit Batra (Ph.D, President and Chief Executive Officer, Waters Corp) who became the GM of Novartis and president of the Australia Pharma business but his tenure was short lived. I still wonder, whether the reason is the perceived threat to Australian mono cultural workforce. Usually, offices of AHSP are seen as just a sales and marketing offices with headquarters in Europe or USA. Even though Indian origin people are working as top innovators, critical thinkers and influencers in medical field across the globe but  their diverse thinking, decision making abilities and representation have been poorly handled in AHSP especially in SMD. Highlighting prevalence of monoculture.  With multiple Indian sales personnel on various stand, Australian Healthcare Week is certainly monocultural no more.

Improving Multicultural Understanding: 

Increasing multicultural understanding has been key focus of Australian government with celebration of Premier’s multicultural dinner or introducing Welcoming Cities Symposium with Department of Home Affairs. And Sydney councils such Blacktown, Liverpool and Parramatta are working for greater community engagements as they are home to over 80 different nationalities. But sales and marketing department (SMD) still lacks multicultural understanding of  thousands of years of Indian medical science. Sushruta Samhita is an ancient Sanskrit text on medicine and surgery. One such surgery is reconstructive surgery. By 800 BC, this particular type of surgery was being carried out in India. Sushruta, an Indian physician became known for his  contributions to the field of plastic and cataract surgery(6th century BC). By 1794, reports on Indian rhinoplasty was published in Gentleman’s Magazine as British physicians traveled to India. In 1901, Prafulla Chandra Ray, established Established India’s first pharmaceutical enterprise. In 1997, Dr Baruah did transplanted of a pig’s heart and lungs into a 32 year old man with ventricular septal defect in India.

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In 2007, Dr Subhash Mukhopadhyay life and work were included in the Dictionary of Medical Biography, (a book published by Wellcome Trust Centre for the History of Medicine at UCL,London) for path-breaking contributions to medical science, followed by recognition  and honour at  30 years of  completion of IVF celebration by Brazilian Medical Society in 2008. Such multicultural understanding with politeness will only help in conversations and creation long term client relationships. And AHW will look more  like Harmony Day celebration in Australian schools.

Swimming with Diversity: 

Last but not the least , Australia health week has definitely showcased diversity in AHSP especially in SMD.

In 1797, 12 Bengalis swam together with 5 English men to  the Australian shore( Sydney Cove shipwreck an epic tale of adventure and survival in 1797, ABC Radio National By Mark McKenna, 2017)achieved far greater equality than Indian origin personnel working in SMD for AHSP to celebrate inclusion and  diversity.

As Omar S. Ishrak, a Bengali American business executive, previously the CEO and chairman of the board of Medtronic stated,” I truly believe that we are a stronger, better company by  bringing diversity of thought to our work and employing a workforce that represents our patients and customers.

Running a business is ultimately about making decisions. When we consider more diverse perspectives, we make better decisions. A more inclusive and diverse culture also fosters a wider range of innovation to be team player different to mono cultural heritage.And that leads to a better business and better outcomes for patients.”

To me, it seems SMD of AHSP are monocultural no more. No matter how hard it is in real life, Australian Healthcare Week is more than celebration. It is a swim with diversity to benefit Australian healthcare.