Nagaland is one of the most isolated and under-developed of the states of India. DR. SEDEVI ANGAMI is a member of our network who runs a hospital in the state's largest city, Dimapur. In this episode of our How To Build Community podcast and radio show, he explains how he helped launch the hospital, and how a hospital might become a centre for community transformation. Here is some of what we learned from him...
He didn’t always plan on becoming a doctor. His initial ambition was to be an electronics engineer, and he ‘just happened to take up medicine’. But during his training, as he began to treat patients, he started to take what he was doing more seriously. “I thought, I must never let anybody die in my hands for lack of knowledge or skills. And then I started becoming quite passionate and very hungry to learn.”
After studying and working in South India, he decided to return to Nagaland. “Nagaland is the most underdeveloped part of the country”, he told us. Colleagues where he was working at Christian Medical College Vellore tried to persuade him to stay there. But he felt that he was more needed in Nagaland, and that he would be more engaged in the work there. “We don't have a lot of the facilities and technology that are there in other parts of the country, but we have fantastic opportunities because there's so much work to do.”
He and his wife faced many challenges in setting up the hospital. “When it started,” he told us, “we had nobody.” It was difficult to recruit staff: salaries were low, there was a lot of violence in the local area, and poor public transport made it difficult to get to the hospital. Further, Sedevi did not want to advertise, instead getting patients by word of mouth. “Initially it was quite tough.”
Sedevi knew that community was the answer to these challenges. When staff first began to join the hospital, which had only a small number of patients, they were encouraged to occupy themselves with community activities as well as straightforward healthcare. “We tried to keep the community very close-knit,” Sedevi told us. Now the hospital has a workforce of 482. “I think the one thing that has really helped this institute to grow is really investment in people.”
Although he runs the hospital, Sedevi tries not to see himself as a leader. “There's a huge number of fantastic people here, and I really feel my role is to facilitate and help them to grow.” His style of leadership emphasises openness and transparency, and he told us that it’s as important to talk about your failures as much as your successes. In addition, he told us, a leader needs to accept and make space for people making mistakes. “I think there's a technique of delegating, not controlling but at the same time supporting and facilitating.”
Today, the hospital is the largest in the state. But there is still work to do. Sedevi noted that people are often impressed with the hospital’s facilities when they visit, but in his view, “for one person who comes here, a thousand are not able to make it.” Difficulty of travel in Nagaland means that Sedevi hopes to train and support health workers to work remotely. “If we can be a facility to connect the resource and the need, then I think that can do much more work than we can do alone.” Networking is key to these ambitions: “We would like to network as much as possible so that we can build capacity in the region.”
He encourages his staff to think of the hospital as more than a place of medical care. “Quite a lot of people now feel they are part of a bigger purpose than just a hospital,” he told us. As well as treating patients, the hospital offers workshops and training in communications, marriage counselling, income generation and more. Sedevi thinks of it as a "platform for community transformation."
Sedevi told us that “One person in the right place can make a huge difference.” We agree – and we think that Sedevi is a great example!