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Dr Gullapalli N Rao: Unwinding the reserved and rigorous

December 30, 2011

Dr Gullapalli N Rao, Founder and Chairman, L V Prasad Eye Institute, Hyderabad

Arshia Khan

What separates him from the crowd is his desire to give more without expecting anything in return. Padmashree, Dr Gullapalli Rao, Founder of L V Prasad Eye Institute, the first of-its-kind benchmarking against international standards, gains inspiration from the US President Barack Obama for his perseverance to achievement and overcoming all odds to become the President. He unwinds his life in an hour…

He fumed with anger when he was frisked for security at the US airport but did complete the formalities after he realised that it’s a part of their job and they are supposed to do it. Injustice of any form makes him angry. “Security pulled me to a side for check. That was insulting. There is a general feeling of discrimination that we have. However, we should take it with good sense,” says Dr Gullapalli N Rao, Founder, L V Prasad Eye Institute (LVPEI). He looks stern and tough, but when you talk to him he is soft spoken and reserved. After studying in the US and working there for almost 12 years, his love for the country drove him back home. “I always wanted to come back and do something in the country. Without hesitation me and my wife returned to the country in 1986 and started this institution and we saw our first patient in June 1987,” he reiterates.

That he wanted to start a not-for-profit eye centre occurred to his mind in 1982. He recounts, “I wanted to come up with a centre that would provide high quality care to everybody,” Dr Rao recollects. In 1985, his friend, a cardiac surgeon, called him and said that he speak to a gentleman called Ramesh Prasad, son of veteran film producer LV Prasad. And that is how the seeds of LVPEI were laid down. Dr Rao did his post graduate training in ophthalmology from AIIMS in the early 1970s. He then moved to the US specialising in cornea and corneal transplantation. “I was an academic there involved in the university medical centre, patient care, teaching and research,” he says.

An eye for perfection

Born in the Krishna district of Andhra Pradesh, Dr G N Rao feels privileged to be in ophthalmology that involves first-hand experience of patient care, research in all its forms, (lab, clinical and public health research) teaching, etc. He has also been involved in administration, building the institute, and planning eye care policy at the national and international level. The only area where Dr Rao was not involved directly was working with the ophthalmic industry. When asked about his interest in eye care he affirms, “My father Venkateswara Rao was also an ophthalmologist, who drove me in this field. Thereafter people who triggered me to join academia in ophthalmology were my AIIMS Prof L P Agarwal, and the Director of my Medical Institute Prof Ramalingaswami who got me involved in research in the field of ophthalmology.” In its silver jubilee year and after treating almost 14 million people so far, Dr Rao is a perfectionist as known by many in the industry. He believes that a common platform for healthcare delivery is needed.

As he highlights, “The private, public and not-for-profit charitable sectors should come and work together with common standards and policies with a feeling that we are the people of India and we all work for the people of India. There should be no blaming on each other.” He continues, “It is either through eye care or personal life, I desire to make a difference to the life of people; and making my life worthwhile.”

Under the macro lens

Sporting a white bow tie and a warm smile, he is an introvert by nature. A colleague of Dr Soma Raju of the Care Hospital fame, he hardly gets time to meet friends. “We are so busy but we still keep in touch over the phone.” Where would we find you if not at work? And he affirms, “If I am not at work you will find me at home.” What did you enjoy doing the most as a youngster? And he smiles, “As a student in the US I had a fancy for watches and cars. I used to drive a Mercedes there. And I really enjoyed my college life.” A well spread office from where the entire city can be seen he peeps through the window panes and gets back to his seat. Dr Rao which is your favourite car now? “I have a Mercedes but I love Zen, he smiles. As a youngster I longed for all fancy things, but now I seek for comfort.” He starts his day with a strong cup of coffee followed by a glance of news. When he is free he enjoys reading and music. As the interview progresses, Dr Rao reminisces his early days by sharing how he spends his day. “My favourite pass time is reading general books, fiction and biographies.” As we tune to know more about him he takes a back seat and narrates. “I owe my disciplinary nature to my father. What I learnt from my father is discipline, simplicity and contentment. My mother is a homemaker. I have two children; son is into stock market in the US. And daughter is a public defender in the US.” Due to his hectic schedule he desires to sleep at least 6-7 hours a day. He would generally have a sound sleep, but what would keep him awake at night and he remarks, “If a family member is ill I would not get sleep till he is completely cured.” And this is so true; as he says with regard to his profession, “The mission of the hospital is reconciling excellence with equity viz quality healthcare to all irrespective of their socio economic status. We have more than 18 districts of Andhra Pradesh covered under the rural eye care programme, located at 103 places.” What has made him a successful entrepreneur is a golden rule that he follows. Before attending a patient remembers that he has to give his very best to the patient as they come to him with a lot of trust and faith of being relieved from the condition. As he confirms, “What I expect for myself is exactly what I would like to give others.”

Then and now

And as we reverse to the early 70s we ask him how would he define the healthcare industry now? He affirms, “I love this industry. No other profession has given me so much. There is so much comfort and it still leaves you satisfied towards the end of the day.” However, he still desires to do larger than life when he states, “The biggest challenge in our country is to give quality healthcare to every human being, which is still a distant dream.” And this is why he rates the country between 2-3 out of 10 on the average healthcare in the country. He informs, “The best healthcare today is provided in Scandinavian countries like England, Britain, Australia, etc. And developing countries like Cuba, Srilanka, Thailand, etc.”

While he desires to achieve more, what drives him constantly is delivering his best at all times. He is content and proudest of that fact that his children have done well in their career. While everything else falls in place, Dr Rao says, “My only disappointment has been that I could not give enough time to the family. But what I have learnt from life is that be thankful for what you have. And he signs off saying, “I hope the next year brings us growth and personally there is health and harmony in family.”

Dr Rao’s diary

  • You would want to be reborn as: As what I am today; no regrets
  • If not a doctor: I may have been a sportsman, but I do not think I cannot be a doctor
  • Important to be successful: There is no catalyst to hard work
  • 7 Catalysts to success: Integrity and hard work, fairness to people, excelling in whatever you do, treating others with respect, constantly learning from others, do what you can without expecting returns.
  • Best city: Hyderabad (cannot stay in Mumbai & Delhi as they are too chaotic)
  • Politics to you is: Politics is a necessary part of life, which has to be clean upside down substantially
  • Best form of worship: Do whatever you do with sincerity


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