BEING CANDID WITH A HEART SURGEON – Dr Sandeep Attawar

Dr. Sandeep Attawar
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An exemplary surgeon with compassion for his patients, having humanistic discipline and moral philosophy to provide quality and affordable cardiac care for all, especially the poor and underprivileged children.

Dr. Attawar has performed over 15,500 open and closed heart procedures of varying complexity, with nearly half of these being neonates and children under the age of 5.

Dr. Attawar’s expertise synergises seamlessly with his passion for equitable healthcare, a sentiment that is clear when one hears him extolling his passion for preserving human life. “To play even a small part towards [strengthening] the fabric of the global community, this is enough for me,” he says.

Attitude toward Work and Life of this high performing cardio-thoracic surgeon.

  • • On long hours 

They [long hours] are unavoidable; a profession like cardiac surgery demands a certain intensity, whether it’s meeting patients and operating or simply staying on top of advances in the field.

  • • Work-life balance 

The only way to maintain one’s sanity is for one to switch off after work – a little bit of mental detachment keeps my life less complicated and lets me maintain my maximal focus during the day

  • • On winding down

A good dinner and watching some television with my family

  • • Best thing in my life

My family; plain and simple.

  • • Worst thing in my life

Perhaps a degree of regret at certain past endeavors turning out the way they did. That said, working with some slightly unsavory individuals has given me a newfound respect for professionalism and made me value the role a doctor plays.

  • • What would you have changed in your career if given an opportunity

Living with such a mindset is a dangerous thing in my line of work; I’m happy with how everything turned out.

  • • Inspiration

A desire to overcome my failure, coupled with an innate ability to use my successes to fuel my efforts, serves me well.

  • • Music

I have a very specific, and arguably eclectic, taste in music. My go-to genre nowadays is European Classical Music but I occasionally listen to Hard Rock and some Hip-Hop.

  • • Operation theatre

It’s the one place in the world that I feel completely in control, as any good surgeon should in my opinion.

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  • • Reflect on career milestone of 10,000 surgeries

Though I am very fortunate, to achieve such a figure in the middle of my career, I try not to fixate on such statistics. I’m far prouder of the fact that I’ve been able to train so many fantastic young surgeons, six of whom are leading their own teams in India and overseas.  I am much more concerned with being able to impart my experience and the lessons I’ve learned to others. That said, simply being able to touch so many lives in a positive way is extremely touching.

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  • • What hooked you to cardiac surgery

Reading a newspaper column on Dr. Denton Cooley in high school. The kind of work he did resonated viscerally and it was undoubtedly the moment that set me on my path.

Dr. Denton A. Cooley M.D.

A world-renowned surgeon, Dr. Cooley pioneered many techniques used in modern cardiovascular surgery. He performed the first successful human heart transplant in the United States in 1968. In 1969, he became the first heart surgeon to successfully implant an artificial heart in humans. Cooley and his associates performed over than 118,800 open heart operations during his career —more than any other group in the world. He authored or co-authored 1,400 scientific articles and 12 books.

  • Hobbies

I’m an inveterate antiquer – There are few things my wife and I enjoy more than an afternoon sifting through items in a bazaar for that unique something or the other to add to our home. Most of our house is decorated a menagerie of such pieces purchased over our many years of moving around the Indian sub-continent.

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  • • On technological advances

I embrace technological progress wholeheartedly, as should everyone in my field. It is a concern of mine, however, that in the Asia-Pacific region, and India in particular, the focus on suppressing costs makes investing in the cutting-edge a lesser priority. I believe that this will compromise on quality in the long run. That said, I am cognizant of the fact that the out-of-pocket nature of healthcare expenses in our part of the world means that patients can suffer if doctors push untested or unnecessarily novel procedures or technologies on their patients – balance, as with everything else in life, is key here.

  • • How do you constantly maintain your sharpness as a surgeon

I believe physical fitness goes hand-in-hand with mental acuity. I exercise regularly, generally in the mornings before work. I’ve also become a de facto vegetarian – in large part thanks to my wife – but also because I’ve come to recognize the health and environmental benefits of limiting my intake of meat and seafood.

  • • When to retire

I would love to never have to answer that question! At present I haven’t given it any thought – I want to keep pushing myself, both in terms of my ability and results. Perhaps when I cannot sustain my current workload I will transition into a more administrative or mentorial capacity.  Surgeons, by their very nature, are restless individuals – there is no retirement for us.

  • • Biggest challenge

For me, the challenge has always been to maintain world-class processes and results in the long run. Getting individuals – not just in a team but across the hierarchy of any organization – to work towards the same goals and conform to the same standards is a challenge, even at the best of institutions. In reality, any given patient can exhibit issues never before seen by a doctor. The goal is to have a team – and by extension a system – that makes use of one another’s strengths to deal with such situations with a uniform and informed approach. Only this can lead to “world-class” results.

  • • Wish for pediatric cardiac surgeries in the future

The training hours necessary for competence in pediatric cardiac surgeries far greater than any other cardiac and perhaps even surgical, specialty. Even leaving aside the challenges associated with operating on an infant or young child, extraneous factors such as a complex patient subset and poor financial returns due to the economically-challenged background of most families play a role in how surgeons and organizations approach pediatric cardiac care. It is my hope that both governments and private institutions recognize the humanitarian gains that can be accrued by paying attention to this intrinsically underserved population.

  • • Accolades received still fresh in your mind

Though it is always nice to be recognized, public admiration and acclaim is not and never has been an incentive for me. I hope to do good work every day and believe that there are so many others doing much more.

  • • Any final thoughts?

I encourage everyone to look within himself or herself, grasp the thing that they have a deep affection for in this world and think about how they can play a role in its preservation. The world is immediately a better place when even one person commits themselves to doing so.