Dr. H Sudarshan Ballal, director of Manipal Institute of Nephrology and Urology (MINU) Photograph: Nishal Lama
Meet Dr. H Sudarshan Ballal, director of Manipal Institute of Nephrology and Urology (MINU), and the chairman of the Medical Advisory Board of Manipal Hospitals (MHS), who recently added another feather to his cap. Of course, it’s not the tag of the prestigious training program FRCP that he will carry with his existing degrees, which matters, but the whole fact that Dr. Ballal is one of the very doctors to have got the degree without having to study in the UK. “To get the degree of FRCP, it’s a criterion that one has to study somewhere in the UK at least for some time. I am one of the rare cases where they have conferred the degree upon me. It feels delightful,” says Dr. Ballal, as we sat down for a hour-long conservation.
Having started the department of Nephrology in the Manipal Hospitals many years ago, today he recalls the days he has spent in the hospital with joy. Working 12 hours a day on an average, round the week, Dr. Ballal makes sure that Sunday’s are spent with family. “I make sure that I go out for movies with my family on Sunday. Also, I make sure that I have dinner together with my wife. There is a lot of travelling that I do, so, I try to get along my wife to some of these official trips.”
With three children’s, two of whom are daughters and one son, Mr.Ballal is one happy father and a lovely husband, an definitely an asset to the hospital he has worked all this while. We catch up with the doctor for a quick conversation. Extracts:
MyBangalore: Tell us something about your early life; you, as a kid. Did you always want to become a doctor?
Dr. Sudarshan Ballal: Yes. I was always keen to become a doctor someday. I am born to a family of an agriculturist, but all my four brothers are doctors. I am the youngest. When I was a kid, I lived with my parents in Udupi, Manipal. I would often pass by the premises of Kasturbi Medical College (KMC) and would often wish that someday I would be studying in the same college.
Were you a very bright student academically?
Yes, I was lucky that way. My parents loved me a lot for the reason that I was the youngest in the five. If I could admit, I must say I was pampered a lot. I studied in one of the convents at Manipal till as time I shifted to Mangalore where I studied at St Aloysius school. English medium schools weren’t easily available then. After my PUC, I got admitted at KMC, where I studied for the next four and half years. I was one of the best outgoing students from the college at that time. I got first class all throughout my MBBS.
Was it an arrange marriage for you?
Yes, it was, and very traditionally too. First, it was our parents who met each other, and then my wife and I met. Arrange marriage worked out very well.
Do you like reading books?
I do, but they are mostly related to medicine. Even some fictions that I have read were related to medicines. I read news magazines – not much of books through. As a kid, I would read a lot of comics like stories based on the character of Mandrake, Phantonm and Archies; Phantom was my favourite. I loved the character – there was some curiosity about him.
Dr. Sudarshan Ballal, Nephrologist Phoyogtaph: Nishal Lama
When did you decide to pursue a specialisation in Nephrology?
After completing my MBBS and the one year internship, I had applied for my MD in the US, which got accepted. I wanted to study kidney, for I realized how important and critical the subject was, yet people didn’t realise. My two years of MD in US was an eye opener. There was a lot of things that I learnt from my teachers there. By the time I finished my MD I had a job waiting for me there. Moreover, I was lucky that the teachers there accepted my training in India very well. In fact, my three-year MD program was relaxed by two years. Hence, I finished my MD in just two years, and did a special training program in nephrology for another two years.
You said you had a job in the US by the time you finished your MD. Why did you decided to leave the place?
A lot of the credit goes to my wife. Ever since we left from India, she always wanted us to come back. At that time, I realized that India was lacking behind other countries in nephrology. There were not a lot of specialized doctors, which is why I decided to come back. Obviously it was a big commitment for me at that time, for I was already established there. I had a job, and was very sound professionally and financially.
I decided to give two years to myself after coming back. My option to work in the US was still open.
So, you had to start off everything right from the scratch?
Yes, but there was the good and the bad thing about it. I decided to work in the Manipal Hospital, a place I always wanted to be in. However, for a fact, I knew that it would require me to work from the very point of first building a Nephrology department. All the learning was extremely helpful. It’s a joy to see that today out department is one of the best and the largest departments in the country. People look forward to getting their treatments here. Since I started this out here, there was a lot of freedom to work on it. I could make it the way I wanted.
Will you tell us some of your significant accomplishments in the hospital?
Well, that goes back many, many years ago. May be the first time we got the dialysis machine, or even the first transplant in the hospital. We distributed sweets after doing the first transplant here. There are many such accomplishments and memories. The latest one is perhaps to start our own two-years training program in nephrology in 1999. For me, right from the time I came in here, everything has been a challenge. There was a time when I didn’t have a room, no doctors, no assistant.
Today, we do more than four thousand dialysis every month. Our training program is well recognised by the National Board and Rajiv Gandhi University. We were the first to bring the concept of dialysis on wheels; where we take the dialysis ambulance to the patient’s to the house. This was recently inaugurated by our former president, Abdul Kalam Azad.
How big is the department of Nephrology in your hospital today?
We are a group of seven Nephrologists, and we cover close to five to six hospitals. We are one of the biggest set up of nephrologists. My students have now joined me as fellow colleague.
What would be your advice to the future doctors?
My advice would be to think objective. Think about the long run, and not the immediate result. For sometime, you may want to go abroad – study and work there, but, is that all you want? I thought the same, and encountered a lot of difficulties after coming back from the US. It took some time for me to get over it. Soon, things started falling on its place. Today, when I look back at the days gone, I am glad that I made the decision to come back.
In years to come, what are your plans?
I want to focus more on treating disease. I want people to think about preventive medicines. Treatments for kidney problems are very expensive, which is what a proper treatment for a kidney-related problem is very expensive. Hence, the best way out is to look for preventive measures.
70 to 80 percent of Nephrologists are in the city’s like Bangalore, and not in rural areas. We should work with the government. I thank the insurance schemes for being able to come up with schemes that guarantee the security and well being today. I wanted to make sure that more doctors are available in the country for better treatments.
What do you want to say about kidney-related problems?
The message has to go loud and clear. Somebody with a Kidney problem is 100 per cent more likely to have heart attack. Amongst the patients who suffer with kidney related problems, most of them die due to heart attack. Preventive measures are very important and I think even doctors should be educated on this, which is why we focus the preventive measures, rather than dialysis and transplantation.
Dr Ballal is a Karnataka Rajyotsava award recipient. He recently became one of the few Indians to have been awarded an honorary FRCP without having worked or trained at any of the hospitals in UK. A graduate of the Kasturba Medical College, Dr Ballal set up MINU at Bangalore which conducted the first cadaver kidney transplant in the state.