Member Feature: Hemanshu Prabhakar, MD, PhD

Linda S. Aglio, MD, MS
Linda S. Aglio, MD, MS
M. Angèle Théard, MD
M. Angèle Théard, MD

Linda S. Aglio, MD, MS
Chair, SNACC Committee on Diversity and Inclusion

M. Angèle Théard, MD
Vice Chair, SNACC Committee on Diversity and Inclusion

The Committee on Diversity and Inclusion is proud to feature one of its members, Dr. Hemanshu Prabhakar.

Dr. Prabhakar received his neuroanesthesia training and doctoral degree at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), New Delhi, India. He is considered an international expert in neuroanesthesia.

Dr. Hemanshu Prabhakar
Hemanshu Prabhakar, MD, PhD
Dr. Prabhakar is on the editorial board of the India Journal of Palliative Care; he is the past executive editor of the Journal of Neuroanesthesiology and Critical Care.  He is the past secretary of the Indian Society of Neuroanesthesiology and Critical Care and the present secretary for the Society of Neurocritical Care.  Dr. Prabhakar is the recipient of the AIIMS Excellence Award for his contributions in academia.  He is an author of more than 250 publications including reviews from the Cochrane Collaboration, and he has edited over ten books.

Dr. Prabhakar lives with his wife, two daughters, ages 8 and 5 years, and his father.  We thank Dr. Prabhakar for giving us a window into his world.

Can you tell us where you were born, about your childhood, and how you found your pathway to medicine?

I was born in Dehradun, a small picturesque city on the foothills of the Himalayas, in the northern part of India. My father (now retired) was in the Military Engineer Services, which required significant travel. From Dehradun we moved to Jabalpur, which is in the central part of the country, the place where I began my formal school education. I completed my education at a missionary school, St. Aloysius Higher Secondary School, Jabalpur. While my father traveled to different places my mother stayed home with me, my elder sister and brother, so that our education would not be affected.

As I remember, I always wanted to be a doctor and treat patients.  My memory takes me back to the times when I was in Class I. I owe this fascination for the profession to my neighbor at the time, who was a medical practitioner. Despite my excellent grades in mathematics, I chose the biological sciences for my career.  I had to take competitive exams at state and national levels before I was selected for a medical education.

What is the practice of medicine like in India?

Most hospitals in India are well equipped with state-of-the-art facilities, but this unfortunately changes as you move more to the periphery of the country in smaller cities and towns.

Have there been any obstacles along the way? How did you overcome them?

Getting through an entrance exam is tough for many reasons; there were limited seats and an ever-increasing number of students per year who appear for the exams; the study course is vast and time limited. So a lot has to be grasped in a very short span of time. The situation remains the same when medical education is complete and one seeks specialty training. It’s a feeling of déjà vu. Once you become a specialist, one has to search for “the right job” in academia and if you are unable to get a job in academia, then you “settle” into private practice.

I had my own share of challenges at different stages but I remained focused. In India, the competition for professional programs, like medicine, is keen. I was not able to secure a position to medical college on my first attempt. I was determined to pursue my goal. I continued to work hard for the following two years.  Subsequently, I achieved my goal. My family was there to support me every step of the way.

Being disciplined is extremely important. I have maintained a strict discipline throughout and made sacrifices too. I never give up hope and always remain optimistic. Failures do come in life but I have always tried to learn from them. I never get distracted easily. I respect and value time, not just mine but also that of others. I have never tried competing with others; I keep trying to improve my own performance.

What has been your most positive experience in medicine?

As an anesthesiologist, I feel I have the opportunity to see life more closely than physicians in other specialties. It changes your whole perspective about life and death. It has taught me the meaning of personal relationships.

Were you always interested in neuroanesthesia?  Why neuroanesthesia? 

Anesthesia was definitely my first choice for a specialty. I was always fascinated by the brain and its control of the body. I found anesthesia intriguing. The mechanisms of anesthetic action continue to fascinate me until this very day. There is still much more to discover. I am attracted to the challenges that the study of neuroanesthesia provides. I love neuroanesthesia. I definitely made the right choice. I am particularly interested in the neurophysiology of neuromonitoring and the clinical challenges of awake craniotomies.

You have an impressive list of published books; what was your path to this focus?

When I joined the Department of Neuroanesthesiology at All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), New Delhi, India, I decided to focus my efforts on summarizing all of the research being conducted at AIIMS. These systematic reviews and meta-analyses provided me an opportunity to become the first Indian anesthesiologist to participate in reviews with the Cochrane Collaboration. This experience would provide me the background necessary for serving as an editor of books in neuroanesthesia. Elsevier Inc. [San Diego] was the publishing company to accept my first book proposal: Complications in Neuroanesthesia.  More books followed and currently I am working on a number of other book projects with a number of other publishers: Oxford University Press, CRC Press (Taylor & Francis), Springer and Cambridge University Press.

What would you describe as your true academic passion?

Teaching. Had I not been a doctor, I would have opted for teaching as my profession. What can be more gratifying than writing books for student education? I truly enjoy both medicine and teaching.

What are your future career plans?

At this stage of my career, I feel immensely satisfied and content with my achievements. Once I’m through with all my academic books, I am very interested in turning my attention to writing non-fiction and fiction.  

Has SNACC been helpful in your career?

Definitely! SNACC introduced me to most of my international authors and I owe the success I’m enjoying largely to SNACC. My books would not have been completed without the support and cooperation from my contributors. Here, I must also mention the similar role of other international societies such as Neuroanesthesia and Critical Care Society of Great Britain and Ireland (NACCSGBI) and Neurocritical Care Society (NCS). I would be failing in my duties if I do not acknowledge my European, Asian, South American and Russian contributors.

In your opinion, what can SNACC do to support and engage its international members, like yourself?

It’s great to see that this year SNACC will be a stand-alone meeting for several days. SNACC might consider having special sessions where popular international members could get an opportunity to deliver a talk, chair sessions and judge posters. Based on the areas of interest, international members could be invited to share their ideas for workshops. I hope that more of our international members are able to participate in SNACC’s scientific program. Additionally, increased committee involvement and leadership including participation as Board members provide other opportunities for involvement by our international members.

Is work life balance a challenge in India as it is for physicians in the U.S.?

Yes, certainly. Maintaining the fine balance is the crux of a happy life. Challenges are very important in life and overcoming these challenges is what keeps me going. In India, we routinely work six days a week. This can extend to seven days if there is an emergency on Sunday. I travel 46 miles to and from the hospital sometimes in inclement weather conditions. Fortunately, I have strong support at home. My wife and father are in charge of the family schedule and household duties. This allows me the opportunity to be devoted to my family when I am at home and to my profession when I am at work.

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