by Tan Sher Lynn
Dr. Suvira Jain wears many hats – she is a renowned clinician, skilled surgeon, respected teacher, sought-after speaker and beloved mother. To learn more, CAKE Magazine sat down with the compassionate doctor to discuss what each role means to her.
As an Ophthalmologist
Dr. Jain obtained her MBBS from Jawaharlal Nehru Medical College, Belgaum, Karnataka, and her Diploma in Ophthalmic Medicine and Surgery (DOMS) at the College of Physicians and Surgeons Bombay. She then pursued her Fellowship of the Royal Colleges of Surgeons (FRCS) in Edinburgh, United Kingdom, where she gained a different perspective in looking at her subjects.
Through this training, she learned to see her patients as a whole person – not only through clinical lenses, but also with compassion. This shaped her practice to ensure that not only her patients’ medical needs were met, but their human needs as well. This also caused her to gain recognition as a compassionate clinician.
Steered by a sense of purpose to return to her homeland and serve her people, Dr. Jain decided to return to India after staying in England for about seven years.
“Following my heart and instinct, I returned to India and joined the KBH Bachoo Ali Eye Hospital in Parel, Mumbai, which is my parent institute,” she shared. “I’ve been working here for the last 19 years as clinical head of the cornea department. Being in an institute, I can continue learning, as well as sustain my interest in academics, teaching and patient care. I also have the honor to work with the underprivileged people in my society. This has been my greatest sense of accomplishment.”
“The reason I chose ophthalmology has always been the people – being able to improve people’s vision and seeing them satisfied after surgery. Truly, being an ophthalmologist has enabled me to touch people’s lives in such an impactful way.”
As a Teacher
To Dr. Jain, teaching is as equally important as treating patients. “By equipping students with the necessary skill set to operate well and establish themselves as ophthalmologists, I am able to touch many more lives,” she said.
In June 2004, she conceptualized and established the Phaco Training Academy at KBH Bachoo Ali Hospital. Since then, the Academy has successfully trained more than 750 qualified ophthalmologists, including residents, from all over the country.
“We accept students at any level, work out a customized program and equip them with the skills required to perform the best phacoemulsification possible, making sure that they understand the principles and become very good at the techniques,” shared Dr. Jain.
She added that she always encourages her students to learn new things and improve themselves. “It is intimidating to do something new, but we need to face our fears and just do it. When students make mistakes, we guide them and lift them out of the storm. In any stage of our lives, we need to remember to stay teachable. Our lives and profession are a learning journey,” she said.
The Phaco Training Academy organizes a live surgical program for challenging cases once a year, and a retreat every two years. In her book The Art of Phacoemulsification – The Passion, The Essence, The Quest, Dr. Jain describes her expertise and experiences, with the aim of supporting and inspiring trainee surgeons. She has also operated in many live surgical sessions during conferences, where she teaches the audience during every step of the procedure.
“Has all this been easy? Well, it was definitely not easy,” she quipped. “To be able to stand out there and work amongst an entire institute filled mostly with men, it took a lot to be taken (even slightly) seriously. It took a firm and infallible belief in who I am and what I stand for. It took intense commitment to my profession, hard work, and the desire for continuous self-improvement,” she stated.
“But throughout this journey, I have had the privilege to be encouraged by my mentors, respected by my seniors and team of doctors, and treated as equal by my colleagues. I am also blessed with the complete faith of my patients, and the love, respect and trust of my students.”
As a Mother
For Dr. Jain, the biggest feather in her cap was finding the time, commitment and love to lead and guide her children, despite her workload.
“When I was in studying in England, I was raising two small children at the same time. Having obtained my FRCS after toiling for months was really a huge sense of accomplishment, pride and relief.”
She added that it is important for children today to see their mothers work hard and excel in their profession. “They respect that a lot in you. Through our example, our children will have a clear sense of what they want to be when they become young professionals,” she said.
Dr. Jain shared that Isha, her first born, worked toward setting up forums for women to engage in public speaking when she was a student in Bangalore. She also worked with underprivileged kids in the schools there, encouraging them to study law.
Meanwhile, Meha, her 22-year-old, wrote at 18 in an interview application that “in emulating my mother, I attempt to make sure that every decision that I make is guided by how its implementation would first affect others, then myself. I push myself to embrace my maximum potential in the hope that one day I would become one tenth the person she is”.
“My daughters have watched me grow, struggle and rise above various circumstances,” said Dr. Jain, sharing that she has been a single mom for a decade. “I do not moan about the difficulties of being a single mother. Instead, I take it in stride and get things done. My commitment to my profession has taken much of my time, but somehow I managed to be there for my daughters when they needed me, be it emotionally, socially or financially.”
Dr. Jain would often text her daughters to say, “Mom’s got your back. You have nothing to worry about. It’s all good”. And today, the roles have been reversed. “I have a daughter who tells me: ‘I got your back, Mom.’ So, life eventually comes back full circle. Whatever you give, it comes back to you,” added Dr. Jain.
As a Woman
According to Dr. Jain, sometimes it can be a challenge for women working in ophthalmology to be taken seriously. But they can overcome it by being good at what they do, being clear about what they believe in, and staying on top of the industry.
“With this, there will be no question of people not taking you seriously. And even if there are still people who don’t, it doesn’t matter. You will be confident, you will be clear, and you will be happy,” she said.
Dr. Jain stressed that women ophthalmologists need to realize that firstly, they are ophthalmologists. “They need to focus on getting their clinical and surgical skills right, focus on driving their own potential and giving their best. That’s how I live my life and how I inspire my students. Gender is immaterial. Professionalism is all that matters,” she shared.
“Truly, we should all strive to live fully and die empty. As my mother wrote in a poem: ‘Our fingerprints do not fade from the lives that we touched’,” concluded Dr. Jain.