Columbia Asia attracts Indian doctors back home Back to News

Nov. 22, 2010

Company's ethics, high-quality care are factors in return.

FOR decades, young doctors from India have flocked to the United States to work and live, lured by high standards of medicine and living. There are about 35,000 Indian doctors in the U.S., making up about 5 percent of the country’s physicians.

Yet in the last decade, as India’s economy has boomed, these doctors have started to return home, lured back by the same things that pulled them away.

Columbia Asia, which is part of Seattle-based Columbia Pacific and operates hospitals across India, is at the forefront of this new trend. Twenty percent of the company’s doctors in India have received degrees from Western countries, and many others have trained or worked in the West. That number may go up as more doctors return home, Columbia Asia continues to build more hospitals in India, and awareness spreads of the company’s innovation and world-class medical care.

“We are changing the way that healthcare is delivered in India, with smaller, cleaner and more efficient hospitals,” said Dr. Nandakumar Jairam, the chairman and medical director of Columbia Asia hospitals in India. “Physicians trained in the West share a kinship with us and are excited to practice in the type of hospital that is still not so common in India and is even difficult to reproduce in the U.S.”

A case in point is Dr. Prabhakar Shetty.

Dr. Shetty grew up in South India and graduated from medical school in Bangalore. After practicing cardiology in his home country for four years, he decided to move to the U.S. in the mid-1990s with his wife and daughter to gain valuable experience in American hospitals, which generally have higher patient volumes and a higher level of training than in India.

He and his family were unprepared, to say the least, for their first winter in upstate New York, where Dr. Shetty had his first job.

“Eighteen degrees and three feet of snow are hard to handle,” said Dr. Shetty, now the head of cardiology at Columbia Asia Referral Hospital - Yeshwanthpur in Bangalore. “There was a time where we asked ourselves, ‘What are we doing here again?’”

Despite the initial temperature shock, Dr. Shetty stayed in the U.S. for 14 years, working alongside and learning advanced techniques from some of the world’s leading cardiologists, such as Dr. Cindy Grines and Dr. William O’Neill at William Beaumont Hospital in Royal Oak, Mich.

“We have a saying in medicine: ‘You are re-learning all the time,’ and I was learning alongside such pioneers in the field,” Dr. Shetty said. “If I had stayed in India, I would have been growing more slowly as a cardiologist on my own, without any outside expertise.”

At the same time, he and his family integrated into American life. They took vacations to Niagara Falls, and became active in the Indian community at their last stop in Evansville, Ind. His daughter, Nisha, took up soccer and horseback riding. His son, Abhishek, was born in Syracuse, N.Y.

Then in 2008, Dr. Shetty decided that he missed the rest of his family – especially his mother, who was in her 80s – too much to stay any longer in the U.S. He decided to bring the medical skills he had learned to the country where he was born and raised.

Dr. Shetty, who was now looking for a job, returned to India to find private hospitals, with a generally higher standard of care than public hospitals, being built all over the country. And yet medical standards still varied widely, depending on how much money a patient had or what hospital he walked into.

Dr. Shetty’s experience in the U.S. gave him unique insight on American standards of care: clean, modern hospitals, a strong sense of ethics, evidence-based medicine and most importantly, a very high quality of care.
After looking at many other Indian hospital companies, he joined Columbia Asia, where he has practiced since 2008.

“In the U.S., I worked on the leading edge of health care, so I needed a hospital that was designed for the future, not the past, and that patients could trust,” Dr. Shetty said. “Columbia Asia has that rare combination in India, and looking back, I can’t imagine working anywhere else.”

Columbia Asia is a natural fit for Indian doctors who have worked in the West because the company’s unique hospital model was inspired by lessons learned in the West, and its medical care and ethics meet or exceed Western standards.

The company is attracting physicians not just because of its medical standards, but because of its clearly defined medical protocols and evidence-based treatment. Each hospital is equipped with excellent infrastructure and technology, including electronic medical records.

The company operates hospitals that are smaller (usually around 90 beds) and more efficient than larger hospitals. The facilities are located near where patients live and work, rather than in the central city, and the smaller size means that patients can be treated more quickly and affordably and minimize their risk of infection.