She has many firsts to her credit. Dr. Mala Raj, Obstetrician & Gynaecologist, Laparoscopic Gynaec Surgeon, Fertility specialist and Aesthetic Gynaecologist, Founder and Managing Director, FIRM HOSPITALS carries with her an experience of over two decades in medical technology and strives to improve the status of women’s health and brings a smile on their faces. New age Laparoscopic surgery and hysteroscopic surgery, fertility and cosmetic gynaecology are her forte.
She has done more than 20000 laparoscopic surgeries including removal of fibroids, uterus, endometriosis and various other uterine surgeries laparoscopically. Dr. Mala Raj developed a keen interest in Laparoscopic surgery and completed her Diploma in Advanced Laparoscopic Surgery from the University of Kiel (Germany) in the year 2004 and extensive advanced endoscopy training in Strasbourg & Taiwan. She also completed her Diploma in Reproductive Medicine from the University of Kiel (Germany) in 2014 and various other training in ART both in India and aboard.She was the first to introduce the technique of INBAG Morcellation in Tamil Nadu for safe removal of fibroid. She not only removes only the fibroids however big or multiple they are, but also saves the uterus by suturing it and retaining the normal configuration, so that woman can go ahead for fertility treatment.
In order to help women going through midlife crisis, she has completed menopause practitioners exam and is an accredited menopause practitioner. She understood the importance of cosmetic gynaecology and persuaded a fellowship in California in Cosmetic Gynaecology. Her key specialties include Laparoscopic surgeries, Hysteroscopic Procedures, Infertility Procedures, High risk obstetrics and cosmetic procedures, wherein she has performed several thousands of cases single handedly with highly proven success rates. Apart from giving relief to her patients, she also teaches Gynaecologists laparoscopic and hysteroscopic surgeries. Her special skills constitute the front edge of modern medicine where she does all advanced surgeries. Apart from giving relief to women with gynaec problems she has made many families happy by making them proud parents either by natural treatment or by resorting to IUI/IVF/ICSI.
Her years of experience has helped women who are unable to conceive naturally through the process of In Vitro Fertilization (Test Tube Babies) and enjoy the pleasure of motherhood. There is a grey zone in fertility treatment for women before going for IVF procedure which are missed in fertility treatment. During this phase, Dr. Mala Raj does fertility enhancing surgical procedures which would help the women conceive naturally. Patients find her as a lucky charm, because their problems get solved when they start their treatment with her.
Where did you study? Please share something about your childhood days and what did you dream of becoming in those days? When and how did you realise that this is what you want to do?
I graduated from Kilpauk Medical College. As a child I was interested in medicine and my dream was to become a doctor. There was no doctor in the family. My father was the Managing Director of all the transport corporations. So his was a transferrable job so I had the opportunity to study in many schools in many cities. My dad used to always say that it’s good for a lady to be either a doctor or a teacher. So it was always there in my mind that I wanted to become a doctor. As a child, I used to taking part in all kinds of sports activities. This continued throughout my MBBS days also. Luckily I got into Government Kilpauk Medical College.
When I came to the final year, I had to decide what to do further. When I got my posting in OG, I got really interested in this field and enjoyed conducting all the deliveries there. Even when my friends enjoyed going for outings, I used to like staying in the delivery room and do these deliveries. I also felt that I had surgical skills so I made up my mind that if I’m doing further specialisation, it will be in gynaecology. I received my post graduate diploma from Sri Ramachandra Medical College and Fellowship in Advanced Endoscopic surgery in Strasbourg, France and University of China Medical, Taiwan. I also have a fellowship in Cosmetic Gynaecology from Red Alinsod Institute under Dr. Red Alinsod.
How did you start your first clinic which was in a small space. What were the hurdles and challenges you had to face to reach where you are today?
Having finished my MBBS, I wanted to specialise in gynaecology, but immediately after my graduation I got married. My husband is a builder and into construction. He owns the Firm Foundations. In the initial days, when we got married, we were both keen to do something meaningful in life and make a mark. I had my first child soon after marriage. Her name is Aarathy and she also has done her medicine. She’s also an international skater. But it was constantly on mind that I had to complete my post-graduation, so when my baby turned a year old, I joined my post-graduation in gynaecology in SRMC.
Again after my post-graduation it was time to look for a job. I didn’t want to join just any hospital. I was very passionate about my medical field. My father-in-law was a general surgeon and I used to accompany for his surgical procedures. In no time I got the hang of it. Meanwhile, the nursing home where my father-in-law was working was looking for a Gynaecologist. My daughter was very young that time, so I chose to work at night after taking care of her all day. I used to go and do the deliveries at night. I have never been idle in my life. That kind of an exposure instilled all the confidence in me. The owner of the nursing home was constantly going to the US as her children were there and she would leave the nursing home to me. I was taking full charge of the place everytime she was gone. After a time she wanted to relocate and I was running it completely. That gave me a sound ground.
I wanted to do super speciality after that rather than doing the routine deliveries. At that time laparoscopic surgeries were very new. I had two things in my mind – either to do laparoscopy or infertility. Laparoscopy was drawing me towards it and I wanted to get trained in it. There were not many places offering it. After my PG, I wanted to start my own clinic. My husband being a builder was kind enough to give me an 800 sq ft clinic. In due course, my practice was very good and many patients started coming. It was always full. I felt that this is only a clinic where I can only do consultations, but I wanted to also do surgeries, so I got myself attached to hospital, wherein they had just started laparoscopy. I started assisting a doctor in that hospital and started learning about it. It was a breaking point for me in laparoscopic surgery. But that was not enough; I had to officially get a degree in the technology. I went to Germany and did my diploma in endoscopic surgery. The moment I returned to India, I was confident and started doing all my surgeries laparoscopically and mastered it. I got attached to various other hospitals by then.
During that time, I also delivered my second daughter Aaradhana who is pursuing law now. After I had established with various hospitals in Chennai, I had to procure laparoscopy instruments. I bought some on my own and was the only lady gynaecologist going around doing laparoscopic surgeries in Chennai. I had to take the instruments from home, sterilise them everytime on my own and take them with me for the surgeries to the hospitals I was associated with. There was a big load coming with me everytime I had to go for a surgery to any hospital. I did this almost for ten years. In the meanwhile, I had my family to look into. My husband was a successful businessman and I had two daughters who were growing up. I did not want to compromise at any point of time on my family. I would operate early in the morning and return home by 7 am and get my kids ready for school. As a parent, we incorporated a lot of other activities also for our children. Aradhana became a national level squash player. We made sure they were good in academics as well as sports. After they went to school, I went to the hospital and try and be back by the time they returned from school. After they got busy at home, I would go back to the hospital.
I had lot of patients at all times. My patients were always happy with me. My fertility patients were also growing in numbers. I was able to manage them in my clinic to a certain point and beyond that I would take them to a hospital and do an IVF procedure. Again, it was a hassle taking them around.
I felt I was able to handle deliveries, laparoscopic surgeries, fertility and even IVF. So I decided to have a hospital of my own, since by then I had mastered all these fields. The place where we were staying, there was a property coming up right behind our house. So with my husband’s support we procured that land and built our hospital. My concept was to have a complete women’s care hospital, which would have everything related to a women’s health care. I created an ambience when anyone enters the hospital, they don’t feel like a patient, but feel happy being there. Right from the beginning, I didn’t believe in advertisements and felt my work should speak for itself. It was always word of mouth. Our practice grew very well.
Please share some of the highpoints of your journey so far?
My exposure to the gynaecology world where I had the opportunity to assist a Gynaecologist and take care of her clinic completely by myself was a big turning point. Next was when I decided to do laparoscopic surgery early in my career, when it wasn’t even heard of in Chennai. That’s when I entered and got myself qualified in the field. Also, another major advantage is that my laparoscopic surgeries and infertility treatments always go hand in hand. I also was able to do the fertility work also at the same time. I attribute my success to my patients as they made me realise that there is a need to do all this. My practice was such that there were lots of infertility patients so there was an inclination to do something in this field. Nothing was pre planned. It was my sheer passion for my work and the need for helping people. Everything else just fell in place slowly and I kept evolving.
I feel every woman should be treated in toto. One can’t just separate one field from another as all these are interrelated. I could not do only laparoscopy but to do fertility treatment. I’m glad I decided to address all the issues altogether in one place. One has to fully understand and provide the treatments. In the same time, cosmetic gynaecology was also coming up. Not just external beauty, but also inner beauty. A lot of times, women suffer silently, when they have issues with their external genitalia. When I realised that, I decided to study that also and added it to my portfolio. I’m a constant learner and like to keep updating and keep providing something new everytime. I went to California and did a course in aesthetic gynaecology that helps improve the look of the genitalia. It was an eye opener for me. Women there are so conscious of their bodies and so much surgical work was happening. I chose the right place and got a good exposure. So, now I have an entire basket on women care in my hospital. I can handle every case myself and can give individual attention. I don’t have to depend on anyone else now.
Things really turned around for me, when I started my own hospital ten years ago. I’m very happy that we have the entire set up for everything related to obstetrics and gynaecology here. Name some awards and recognitions you have won along the way?
There have been many accolades and awards over the journey of many years. I got the Best Doctor award from the Tamil Nadu Medical University. I have also won the Icon award, Rising Star award and the best single speciality award for minimal invasive surgery. My hospital got the best Women Care Hospital award. I have also received various awards for video presentations of my surgeries. These awards keep encouraging me to do more and makes me feel happy that my work has been recognised. Some of the awards include – Best Doctor Award from Dr. M.G.R. Tamil Nadu Medical University, 2012, Dr. Siuli Rudra Sinha Award for Best Presentation on Endoscopy, AICOG, 2006, Jewel of India Award for Outstanding Achievements, 2015, Rashtriya Rattan Award, 2014, TANCARE Award for Excellence in Healthcare, 2014, with FICCI and Govt. of Tamil Nadu, Best Video Presentation – Plethora of 15 submucosal fibroids removed laparoscopically, IAGE Annual Conference, Lucknow, 2018, Times Health Care Excellence Award for “Stalwart in Obstetrics and Gynaecology” & Firm Hospitals as “Best single Speciality Hospital in the field of “Minimally Invasive Surgery” -Times Healthcare Achievers Tamil Nadu 2018, Firm Hospitals adjudged the “Best Established Hospital in Tamil Nadu and Pondicherry, Dr. A.P.J. Abdul Kalam Excellence Award, 2018, Inspiring Gynaecologist of Chennai- ET Health world Fertility Conclave, 2019, The Rising Star Award – Times Healthcare Achievers – Icon of Healthcare, 2020, TANCARE Award for “ Excellence In Quality Award 2020” for “Best Women Care Hospitals – FIRM HOSPITALS, 2020 by The Times Of India in association with FICCI and Govt. Of Tamil Nadu and Asia Pacific Achiever Award in 2021.
How would you describe the unique set of qualities and skills that women doctors bring to the table?
Women doctors are multi taskers. We want to do best in everything – our family as well as profession. Unless your family is happy and taken care of well, you cannot do well in your profession. You’re doing so much for your patients, but if your family is not taken care of you’ll never be happy. It is upto an individual how they can juggle it all. One has to be not only physically strong but also emotionally strong. I feel most of the Gynaecologists have that in them. When you’re delivering everytime there are so many things one has to take care of – the baby should be healthy, it should cry and all those things are there about delivering properly. To do every delivery one goes through a lot of stress, so maybe it is all these abilities to cope with so much stress that a woman like me knows how to balance everything and overcome hurdles.
I perform huge cases in laparoscopy that many others may be hesitant to perform. I have done surgeries where the fibroid weighed 2.5 kgs and the woman would be almost like six months pregnant with such a big size of the fibroid. I have removed them with just a 5 mm incision using a laparoscope. That is my main skill. People come to me for these skills. Otherwise if you’re doing a normal open surgery, you’ll have to make a very big incision for that, which I can do with just a 5 mm cut. Patients can even leave in a day’s time. To make my patients comfortable, I have to put myself under pressure and I have even encountered shoulder injurydue to prolonged surgical hours. It took almost a year to get out of it. I have fully recovered now and continue to do my work. One has to have the determination to succeed. If one is passionate about it, they have to keep going.When a patient comes with anxiety we also feel the same agony. These things mould us and help us to evolve.
Where did you get your entrepreneurial spirit from? Being a medical practitioner and also running your own set up alongwith practicing as a qualified and successful doctor is not an easy task. How do you manage to do it all so well?
When I started practice, I wanted to do some good work in gynaecology, but in due course of time, things started evolving. I went alongwith the flow in my journey. I was never complacent. Everytime I achieved something, I wanted to do more. Whatever skills I had I always wanted to translate it to patient care.
Considering the fierce competition in today’s business world, how would you highlight your competitive advantage and what makes you stand out of the crowd?
I keep updating and upgrading myself in my field of laparoscopic and other surgeries, fertility work and cosmetic gynaecology. Even in my hospital, apart from doing all the laparoscopic surgeries myself and I also train gynaecologists and transfer my knowledge to everyone. Gynaecologists come from all over India and can get trained at my hospital. I also train them personally and take lots of classes for them. We have many conferences now and one is constantly exposed to many new opportunities. There’s a lot of sharing and gaining of knowledge. I also conduct workshops where we do live surgeries so other Gynaecologists can see how I’m operating. I’ve also been invited to various other hospitals all over India to operate. Due to the current technologies, things are improving so much in the medical field.
What role does fitness play in your life? What is your fitness regime?
I have been a sportsperson in college. One has to be fit always. In my surgeries, one has to be very fit since I have to be standing in one position for many hours and operate. I like to do my morning walks. I also incorporate yoga thrice a week. I have a gym at home also as my kids are also into fitness. Whenever I have time I always ensure that I take care of my fitness. I have two daughters. My elder daughter’s husband is an Indian cricketer. She is a doctor and has completed her post graduation in Embryology. My younger daughter is pursuing Law and is a squash player. So fitness is very vital. We are a sports oriented family.
How have family values influenced your outlook towards work and life in general?
My family is my pillar of strength. My husband is a very strong support for me. He has his own establishment and is a renowned builder. Ours was a love marriage and we have built all this together on our own. When we started we didn’t have anything. We were both new to our field. From that time we have been helpful and have both grown in our fields. We have different specialties yet we are independently doing well. We complement each other. We are proud of our two gems, our two daughters and how we have all come together so far.
What are your other hobbies and passions?
All my hobbies have taken a backseat now. I have been very keen on sports, but I’ve been very busy now. Whenever I get time I like to play badminton and reading and music I enjoy. I have a master who comes and teaches me to play the Veena once a week.
Has the pandemic affected your work and how?
Pandemic did affect everyone everywhere. But we never gave up. We have been working throughout, but of course patients have been less during the pandemic, but now it’s back to normal.
How often do you take holidays with your family? What are your preferred vacation places?
Holidays have become very tough these days as work has been very demanding. We like to spend time with children for their growth. When kids were small and into sports we had to travel with them for their tournaments to different countries. My husband used to travel with them most of the time. My availability was required in my medical field. Being a doctor I had to be physically present all the time, so I have not been able to take many holidays. But we tried and took an annual family holiday. One of the best one was one before the lockdown. We had been to Norway and it was a beautiful experience. We went to Oslo and Tromso and we were fortunate to see the Northern Lights in the freezing cold. The moment we came back there was lockdown and ever since there has been no holidays.
Tell us about your daughters Aaradhana Kasturiraj and Dr. Aarathy Kasturiraj?
Dr. Aarathy Kasturiraj is a Skater and a Doctor. She has completed her Masters in Clinical Embryology in Sri Ramachandra University. She has represented India in the “World Roller Games 2019” in Barcelona, Spain and is No.1 skater in India and has represented our country in many national and international tournament. Aaradhana Kasturiraj is pursuing Law – in school of excellence and aspiring to do Masters in Law in U.K. She is also a Squash player at national and international level.. She is in the 15th position under Senior Women’s category, in the Indian Squash academy. She has participated in the Century Bangalore Squash open 2019 competition and was a Runner up under Senior Women’s category. She has also won various National and International medals in the field of Ice skating at the age of 6. She has participated in various National and International Squash events.
What do you like to do on an off day from work? How do you like to spend your weekends?
I’m always working. I get off only on Sundays. I like to stay at home on Sundays. I’m not a social person. If I have free time I like to stay at home with my family and I like to make biryani on Sundays.
Are you a foodie? What are your favourite food places and some of the best cuisines you have tried?
Yes I’m a foodie. I enjoy all these different cuisines like Chinese, Continental and Chettinad, but we try and cook all these at home. I also try and learn to make new dishes sometimes at home. Now we have YouTube so it’s easy. My favourite dishes that I make are biryani, paya and crab curry.
Any advice to young budding doctors?
You should be passionate in whatever you’re doing. Also stay focussed. If you love your job you will definitely do well. If you enjoy what you’re doing, you will get the flow and everything will fall in place. Many people say I’m lucky, but I feel luck will favour only those who do some hard work. In the current scenario, even if you have to stay in the same position, you have to keep running, so if you have to move ahead, you have to sprint. So you have to constantly keep updating and never give up. It doesn’t matter when you start, it doesn’t matter what anyone is doing. All that matters is that you truly follow your own path, your own way of doing things at your own pace and always follow your intuition. Be ethical and kind to yourself and others. This would be my advice to younger colleagues!
What is in the pipeline in terms of your work currently? Are there any expansion plans?
Firm Hospitals is doing well now. My daughter is also a doctor and plans to join me in the near future. Once she joins me we plan to start a multi speciality hospital for women.