Healthcare has become one of India&’s largest sectors in terms of revenue and employment. It comprises hospitals, medical devices, clinical trials, outsourcing, telemedicine, medical tourism, health insurance and medical equipment. Diagnostics play a major role in controlling healthcare spending. This has become one of the leading destinations for high-end diagnostic services with tremendous capital investment for advanced diagnostic facilities. Ameera Shah, managing director and chief executive officer, Metropolis Healthcare Ltd shares on the opportunities available for students looking for a career in this field. She has revolutionised the pathology industry from being a doctor led practice to a professional corporate group in an extremely unregulated, competitive and fragmented market. Excerpts for an interview:

What are the key challenges for setting up a diagnostic laboratory?

Setting up a global standard laboratory requires capital, expertise and the right team. Bulk of the work starts after setting up the facility, as maintaining quality and high levels of accuracy for every patient report requires stringent processes. Moreover monitoring and fulfilling the changing needs and expectations of every customer is paramount.

You have revolutionised the pathology industry and Metropolis has been the first to create a sustainable business model. How has the journey been?

Initially, the pathology laboratory was only managed by my father as a sole proprietorship and was not run as a business. I did my business management degree in finance at University of Texas, Austin and always wanted to come back to India and contribute to the country. I debated working with larger companies like Goldman Sachs and a few start-up companies, but felt an entrepreneurial drive and decided to enter the pathology laboratory industry in India. In 2001, we decided to convert Metropolis from being a one lab to a leading chain of labs across India. Initially, I had to set up basic departments like IT, HR, purchase, marketing and sales, which did not exist, and slowly started creating a chain across the country.

Currently the company has grown to a fully integrated multinational chain of 135 diagnostic centres with 1,000 collection centres across South Asia, Middle East and Africa. The company has become a well-respected healthcare brand, catering to more than 20,000 laboratories, hospitals, nursing homes and two lakh consultants. We offer 4,500 tests from basic blood screening to specialist genetics tests and processes more than 30 million tests annually. Since from 2001 we have expanded it from one lab with revenue of $ 1.5 million and about 40 employees into a multinational chain of 135 labs with $ 90 million in revenue and 4,500 employees. The last 15 years has been a joyride, an experience I wouldn’t replace with anything else.

What can be done to encourage more women entrepreneurs?

Right training skills along with formal education and experience is a must. There are going to be many negative pressures, so one needs people who can support and push to excel.

Could you highlight the opportunities available for Indian students looking for a career in this field?

There are ample of opportunities both on the scientific and business side of the industry. We recruit doctors, pathologists and specialists. Scopes are multitude for geneticists, microbiologists, biochemists, surgical pathologists and other specialty areas. We also have a robust research and development team. 

What factors should a prospective student consider when choosing a career of this nature?

On the technical side, there is a huge skill gap in the industry. Each and every employee needs to be trained on the job. Today&’s education system in India focuses largely on the theoretical aspects and less on the practical applications. While theoretical knowledge is important, it is the practical skills that would matter when you are actually at the job. There needs to be a balance between both. Students need to try and gain such practical exposure as they are pursuing their education, so that they are ready when on the field.