banner by Sarah Burns

An Eye-Opening Experience

by Deesha Desai

As I entered the doors of Sankara Eye Hospital, I could not help, but be intrigued by the frantic atmosphere. At each patient bed, staff members were working diligently to attend to the surgical discharges and create space for incoming patients. Over a four-week span, I came to realize that medicine is among the rare professions that value the greater good and humanitarian interests above all potential costs.

During the course of my volunteer internship at this non-profit hospital that serves rural India, I observed physicians, nurses and staff, all volunteering their time and efforts to help low-income patients, who often had never seen a doctor and were resigned to their dire conditions. As I shuffled between shadowing consultations, assisted in pre- and post-operative care and travelled to small, rural villages to recruit patients, I marveled at the ease with which these physicians overlooked potential dangers and personal losses to make a greater impact on one of the world’s poorest populations. I soon realized that it was this selfless dedication to their humanitarian effort that allowed these physicians to alleviate the maladies suffered by so many in their home communities.

At the moment, India is home to the largest number of individuals suffering from preventable blindness. In the midst of this situation, however, Sankara Eye Hospital stands at the forefront of non-profit ophthalmic health care. With its two-branch structure, this hospital is able to travel to surrounding rural villages and provide care to hundreds of low-income individuals. Similar to the American health care system, one branch relies on a paying population that can afford the treatments they require. This branch ultimately helps subsidize the non-profit branch and empowers the hospital to help those who cannot afford care. Through this innovative structure, Sankara Eye Hospital has expanded tremendously to nine locations across India and now provides free treatment to thousands of individuals.

In terms of overall health care impact, Sankara Eye Hospital physicians primarily focus on cataract surgery and medicine distribution for treatable ophthalmic ailments. The volume of this work is staggering. In its inaugural year, the hospital performed 10,000 no-cost eye surgeries. Since then, it has repeatedly exceeded 20,000 free eye surgeries per year.  

This effort pervades into a social component, as well. By traveling to rural villages, offering free checkups on populations of all age and providing necessary treatment, this hospital’s staff is transforming India one eye at a time. They allow individuals they treat to seize back their lives from the haze of blindness and once again pursue their lives to the fullest. For this work, the hospital has already received accolades from the state of Gujarat. Recently, the Gujarat State Blindness Control Society recognized the Sankara Eye Hospital as one of the top free eye care-providing foundations in the state, a testament to the incredible work Sankara has accomplished.  

Each day, I observed these Sankara physicians stay hours past closing to help each and every patient that came through the doors. As one of the retinal surgeons, Dr. Bhargav Patel remarked, “What is the point of money if it can’t help those around me?” Like many of his colleagues, Patel truly makes that statement a reality on a daily basis.

Most physicians hope that the hard work of their medical journey will pay off with increased luxury and greater comfort. However, these Sankara doctors effortlessly sacrifice even the smallest personal pleasures. In the midst of the blazing summer days and crowded situations, they not only relinquish basic luxuries, such as air conditioning, but also complete typical nurses’ duties themselves to help the clinic function as smoothly as possible. No job is considered too minor, whether it is drawing blood from a patient or cleaning the room between patients. Sankara’s staff truly stands at the forefront of the selfless impact that medicine encapsulates, and it was an honor and privilege to spend those four short weeks with them.

Through each of these components and unique structure, Sankara Eye Hospital works to provide exceptional treatment to those in need of it most. If individuals could strive to bring this same attitude not only to an intended career in medicine, but also to our daily interactions with the people around them, then I believe we can truly revolutionize the world around us.