She has been working in this profession for the last two decades and she is planning to contribute more here by attracting patients from abroad to avail world class treatment at a much reasonable and competitive price.
In an interview with The Business Standard (TBS), Dr Shagufa talked about her aspirations as a healthcare professional and her experience as a female in the male dominated industry.
TBS: You have recently received an award from Channel I. How would you describe your journey so far?
Dr Shagufa: Channel I has given the Digital Media Award for the first time especially to recognise those who have made significant contributions during the Covid-19 pandemic in different sectors. I feel honoured and inspired for getting this recognition as a healthcare professional. In my journey as a health communication specialist for more than two decades, the last one year of the pandemic was most challenging and also most rewarding.
It was challenging because I had to tackle new challenges every day that the pandemic made us face in the hospital. We needed to train our hospital caregivers, set up policy and protocol, dissipate fear of our patients by delivering them right communication and ensure supply of disinfectant and safety gears at the right time. We also had to initiate home service for sample collection from the patients and setting up robust telemedicine video consultation service for home-bound patients.
Work from home, like many others in the country, was never an option for me or for many other healthcare workers; my working hours and stress increased tremendously. At a time, in the hospital we had to ensure a separate treatment facility for Covid-19 and non-Covid-19 patients with a completely separate set of doctors, nurses and other caregivers, ensuring right and safe treatment for all.
During this pandemic and in the lockdown, not for a single day, any single service of my hospital like dialysis for kidney failure patients, radiation or chemotherapy for cancer patients, heart procedures or any surgery came to a halt, rather in the face of shut-down of many other facilities in the country, we are happy to say that we served all those patients who came to us as we continued our services relentlessly.
In personal life, the challenge was added with the worry of keeping my family safe, as every day, me and my husband, who is the Senior Consultant Laparoscopic GI & Onco Surgeon of the United Hospital, attended the hospital and came back home to our daughter.
Looking back, I find the Covid-19 pandemic to be most rewarding in my life, as it made me feel every moment how blessed I am to be of help to the community, as known and unknown people from every corner, day and night frantically, were looking for support either for advice or for beds in the hospital or for oxygen support resources, what not.
At this trying time of mankind, that I could be of some help for some people, makes me feel immensely thankful to the Almighty.
TBS: When did you decide to build your career on health care, communication and business development? What has influenced you to pursue this career?
Dr Shagufa: To be honest, I did not consciously decide on my career as a health communication specialist and marketer. It happened to me and I accepted it happily as I started enjoying what I was doing, one step at a time. I stood first in all the professional exams in Chattogram Medical College and I got honours marks (more than 80%). So it was clearly evident and expected that I would pursue my excellence in any clinical specialty.
But at our times, unlike now, the only option was to sit for an exam to get a government job and thereafter pursue a post-graduation; options for private jobs were scanty to non-existence. I being a city girl and spoiled (laughing) by my parents could not think of joining a government job, and taking a posting in some rural area scared me off.
I got opportunity to work in research in renowned international organisations which also seemed not very interesting to me; so as I got the opportunity I entered into the new territory of working in pharmaceuticals, where in a decade of work experience I excelled in health communication, market research, brand marketing and health regulatory aspects of the country.
In 2007, I had the honour to be the first female general manager in the pharmaceutical industry of the country as I was promoted to that position in Eskayef Bangladesh Limited, a concern of Transcom Group. I must say I worked shoulder to shoulder with all my male colleagues in the male-intensive industry reaching a leadership position.
Thereafter when I joined the service industry from healthcare product industry (pharmaceuticals), I got a new dimension of contentment in serving humanity from my profession. I joined as a general manager (business development) in Apollo Hospital Dhaka (now Evercare Hospital Dhaka) and worked seven years there. Then I joined as director of Communication and Business Development in United Hospital Limited, where I am still serving.
I felt my love for communication in listening and also in elucidating to the patients in the community about their problems and also about the solutions. These gave me the every-day satisfaction of being able to bridge between the patients and the healthcare providers. I feel very inspired to be a part of this journey of the healthcare industry of Bangladesh from the platform of a leading hospital of the country, from where I am being able to contribute significantly to improve the health awareness and understanding of our community.
TBS: How was this field in the beginning and how is it now? Was it tough? Did you notice any changes in this sector, from structural factors to human behaviour? What were the core obstacles in attaining this position?
Dr Shagufa: In my time, the pharmaceutical industry, especially, in the marketing and business development arena, was not ready to accept aspiring bright and smart females who were all set to make their marks in the industry. Yes, there were females at managerial positions in the factory production or quality control or allied departments, but none cut to fit the hard-working long-hours travel-intensive male-dominated marketing areas.
So yes, it was tough. Peers were tough, seniors and juniors all were tough and criticising and judgemental. I had to overcome these with sheer determination and hard work. Like the English proverb "when the going gets tough, the tough get going" I had to act stronger to step up and handle the difficulties.
However, things changed over the years as I could make my mark and got recognised for my good work; the skepticism turned into genuine appreciation. In the service industry, as I entered the hospital sector things were easier as people were used to seeing females working in hospitals. Over my two decades of career, I have found people's mindset changing from denial to acceptance, as I am sure other females of my genre faced such shifts in other industries as well.
The core obstacle is the traditional mindset which shapes the organisational behaviour. It is hard to make it accepted in a male dominated environment that a female can work for success. Still, people are not ready to acknowledge the brain behind that pretty face, still people are busy putting a label on the tough females as non-feminine, still people feel females have their male counterpart supporting them and so why should they get a high remuneration since they do not 'actually' need it?
I was not an exception to these, faced all, open and subtle, and took all of these in my stride. That is how all females need to face these in-built notions of our society, accept these and then learn to ignore and focus on the work ahead.
TBS: What are the changes that we need to bring in this sector for women to make it more work friendly?
Dr Shagufa: The obvious change that we need to inculcate is the mindset of accepting women as a respectable contributor in her work field, to accept her as an equal contributor. The additional roles that a woman has to play in her family being a mother, wife, daughter or other, need to be understood and treated with compassion and empathy.
We should support women for the multi-tasking that she does in her work and also in her family, not tagging that as her weakness. Organisations should ensure external safety for women staff, focusing on their transport as in late night or early morning work schedules. Further internal dynamics should be strengthened in policy making and top management support.
I will give one example of organisational support here as we did in United Hospital. At the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic last year, one of our female PCAs (patient care attendant) got infected and her neighbours created mayhem surrounding her house, so her husband refused to keep her at home and threw her out.
We from United Hospital arranged for her hospital stay in isolation, after all her treatment was done, when she got well, we reinstated her in her house with police help. So we need to understand women are making enormous sacrifices as they juggle between their family chores and work place.
TBS: And what are the changes that we should make to bring more women to this sector?
Dr Shagufa: Healthcare industry already recognises women as compassionate caregivers. We need to promote that role from direct patient care roles (doctor, nurses) to other supporting roles of management as well. Women are sincere, honest, committed and empathetic.
So the best place they can be is in healthcare, where these are most needed. Women playing different roles in healthcare, in top and mid-management, in front office, in back office, by patient's bedside, on the floor and in the operation theatre of the hospital; all the roles need to be highlighted to make their needs felt. We need to encourage our women to bring them in this sector.
TBS: How many years have you been working at United Hospital Ltd for and how has this place reshaped your career?
Dr Shagufa: I have been working in United Hospital for the last five years. At United Hospital, everything is patient-centric. Before joining United Hospital when I first met the chairman of United Hospital Mr Hasan Mahmud Raja, who is currently the chief adviser of the United Group (father of our current United Group chairman), he told me that he just wants to ensure that no hospital staff ever misbehaves with any of the patient or their family.
That is what formulates the core pledge of United Hospital, to treat patients and their family right, to deliver what they need with the right compassion. Working at United Hospital, I have learned that even serving from the platform of a private multidisciplinary tertiary care hospital, I should act socially responsible to be able to address the community as a mainstream care provider, going above and beyond the rigid documentation driven protocols of a corporate hospital.
Also being a concern of a large local business conglomerate, United Hospital has reshaped me to be more culture driven while delivering healthcare to our own people being more sensitive to their needs and values.
TBS: How is United Hospital Limited contributing to bring more women to the health care sector?
Dr Shagufa: At present, there are 977 female staff out of total 2,300 employees working at United Hospital, which is 42% of the total manpower. Further, in mid-level and upper mid-level management there are good numbers of women heading different sections of responsibilities.
United Hospital Limited is respectful and sensitive to the needs of our women and is sincere to provide a women friendly and conducive environment. This is a major support for women to choose their career for the health care sector and also cite this example to raise voice in places where the environment is not as compliant.
TBS: What is your future plan and how do you visualise this sector in the next five years?
Dr Shagufa: My future plan is to grow and to contribute more meaningfully in the health care sector by creating a platform and making the community more enabled to express their expectation there; vis-à-vis making the providers listen to that and also reshaping our people's mindset to act as responsible knowledgeable healthcare seeking customers.
We have a long way to go to make ourselves responsible and also to respect each other, both from the recipient and provider points of health care services.
In the next five years, the health care sector of our country will be one of the most highlighted contributing sectors for the country's economy. We have seen during the Covid-19 time that our country's healthcare sector performed brilliantly, even the patients who generally go abroad for treatment relied on us.
So, in terms of skill development of healthcare workers and also facility and infrastructure development, our hospitals will excel even more in the coming years to not only retain the foreign-goer patients within our country but also attract patients from abroad here to avail world class treatment at a much reasonable and competitive price.