Dr. Neelam Mohan: One Woman, Many Arms

They say that the seeds for those destined to be super achievers are sowed in them very young. But when this energy is channelized in the right direction it can become the defining moment for great success stories. Dr Neelam Mohan is one such medical professional who is known for her pioneering work in liver transplantation and initiatives to popularize therapeutic endoscopic work in newborns and young children.

A trailblazer, she is the first Indian to chair the Women’s Forum of Global Association of Physicians of Indian Origin (GAPIO).

She is one of the few doctors who received the B.C. Roy national award for her exemplary work as President of CHILD society working on child health, as one who has formulated national guidelines for children in India on diarrhea, liver failure, jaundice, she got the privilege to be a member of international group formulating -Global guidelines on liver diseases in children.

When in her teens, Dr Neelam Mohan was besotted with the desire to be powerful, then her father came as a guardian angel who counselled her saying, “Power is great, but why not do something that contributes to the lives of others. How’s that for a calling?” These words cast a spell on the young girl. A few years passed, she enrolled in medical college. Propelled by the ambition of early adolescence, drawn by a young adult’s desire to serve – the young Dr Neelam Mohan, found herself choosing Pediatrics.

At the time, Pediatrics was a niche medical specialty in India. After completing her MBBS training from Hyderabad and Post-graduation in Pediatrics from Delhi, Dr Neelam further trained in Pediatric Gastroenterology and Hepatology from All India Institute Medical Sciences and Birmingham Children’s Hospital (UK).

The going was tough as the young lady doctor had to work hard to find her niche in a medical field having infantile as its little patients, that was dominated by male doctors. “I have only boundless gratitude towards my in-laws for this period of my life: they raised my sons when I had to work the extra hours. I found myself wondering, here I am – a doctor trained to treat children, and there I am – a mother who cannot give her own children the time they deserve. What to do?” says Dr Neelam Mohan.

Her inspiration were the Hindu goddesses to whom she prayed seeking divine blessings and inspiration. Goddesses with their many arms, their ability to be many women, all while being one. Of course, things are changing now: men and women divide their domestic tasks more evenly, but the generation the young doctor came from, credits the secret of her survival to developing the ability and skill of multi-tasking. She thinks aloud, “Alright, if I cannot be the mother who cooks for her children, I can certainly be the mother who takes up their school work, who takes them out to play, who teaches them how to serve others, how to turn dreams into reality. The moment I came home from my hours at the clinic, I gave myself to my children completely.” The ability to multi-task is innate in women and they simply have to tap into it. Dr Neelam observes, “It has helped me be the woman I want to be, both at home and at work. Since my years as a young doctor, multi-tasking has helped me reach new heights: Clinically, I have created India’s first Pediatric department that specializes in Gastroenterology (at Medanta, Gurgaon).

I have worked closely to preserve the lives of so many children, parents and families. Academically, I have published hundreds of research papers and taught young clinicians pursuing fellowships. Administratively, I was invited to draft national guidelines for Pediatric Gastroenterology through Indian Academy of Pediatrics and am a member of the expert committee formulating Standard Treatment of Workflow, an endeavour by Government of India. Besides this, I have been one of the members writing global guidelines in Pediatric Hepatology. I think to myself and smile. I remember a father’s calm counsel to his naive and restless daughter: serve others, serve as many as you can.”

“My advice to the women leaders of tomorrow is simple: go forth and find the things that help you discover the many women in you. Too often – far too often! – we only know ourselves in the role others have given to us. Daughter. Girl-friend. Wife. Mother. Home manager. Cook. And don’t get me wrong – these are all noble roles, but how will you know what else is in you? Until you find others stages on which to express yourself, how will you know the roles you really want to play?” sums up Dr Neelam about the drive which women are gifted with from birth.

(Dr. Neelam Mohan is the Director, Paediatric Gastroenterology & Hepatology, Institute of digestive and Hepatobiliary Sciences)

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