A Man Beyond Intelligence and Capability

There is none other like Aravind. It’s a massive institution for eye care. Every day it treats hundreds of people who can’t afford treatment. Every year it grants the right to sight to countless grateful souls. What powers it? What feeds this massive machine? Look to an image Dr. Venkataswamy, or Dr. V., a smiling old ophthalmologist with rheumatoid arthritis and an unwavering vision.

He’s gone. I was able to attend the 11th anniversary memorial in his memory.  This doctor began with an 11 bed hospital, and from the beginning he focused on patients, nothing else but his patients. To him, the greatest spiritual growth came from treating those in need. With this mindset he adopted a policy of never turning down a patient, they could come without a dime to receive the same treatment as those who could afford to pay.

Since then his care center, Aravind, has experienced a massive growth. Coming from America, a country where healthcare totes the status of highly paid doctors and high cost care, it was difficult for me to grasp how this business model was sustainable. How could Dr. V retain great clinical skill while paying them cost-saving amounts. There are two reasons visible to me. The first is quite straightforward, Aravind receives high volumes of patients that allows doctors here to become highly trained in their department due to the all the cases they meet and all the experience they gain. Doctors can come here from around the world to obtain some of the best training in their field. The second reason is far more interesting.

Analytics aside, Aravind possesses something I’ve never seen in a hospital: Spirit. Dr. V’s spirit permeates through every working piece of this hospital, literally and figuratively. His smiling face and words of wisdom hang on many of the walls. Next to them are two more faces, a bearded man and a smiling woman, Saint Aurobindo and Mother. Dr. V was a spiritual man and these two figures served as the guiding lines for his values. Dr. V. is able to link the work of his hospital to a quest to achieve a greater, spiritual good. I believe by tying the religious believes of the majority of India to the hospital he was able to share his vision with every doctor, ophthalmic assistant, and consultant at Aravind.

As I sat silent amongst the bowed heads at the memorial in his memory I listened as several speakers took their turns at the podium. Everyone praised Dr. V. for the man he was; for the spirit he had. Never did they mention his intelligence or capabilities.

It was obvious to me that to Dr. V. and now to every Doctor at Aravind, “Intelligence and capability are not enough. There must be the joy of doing something beautiful.” –Dr. Govindappa Venkataswamy (Dr. V)

Dr. V. left something more than a hospital, he left a way of life and a clear vision for his hospital. It would be hard to see America having as effective a healthcare as this in the near future and I am grateful to have the opportunity to experience a system as unique as this.

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About Matthew Andersen

As a member of the class of 2020 it's quite fitting to be working at the Aravind Eye Hospital in Madurai this summer to improve worldwide vision. I'm enrolled in the Roy and Diana Vagelos Program in Life Sciences and Management studying Computational Biology and Statistics. I'm an avid learner, explorer, photographer, and dancer and plan do all of the above here in India.