What do you do every day?
My title is the Head of Medical Affairs at Abbott Molecular Diagnostics. This means that I lead a team of very talented individuals that consists of medical, clinical and scientific affairs. In my day to day work, I define the vision, mission and purpose of my team, manage the team’s challenges with the main goal of ensuring the safety of the population that uses Abbott’s products.
Why do you love it?
I am a polio survivor and was temporarily a quadriplegic at the age of 3. Fortunately, though, I was given experimental medicine and fully recovered. After recovering, I was diagnosed with a drug-induced bleeding disorder which in the end helped inspire me to join the medical field. Medicine gave me the ability to have a healthy and full life, and I want to help other people who have had lives like mine.
When all my friends were out playing sports, I was inside and had to sit on the stairs, and it was demotivating as a child. I discovered a love of painting and other hobbies that made up for what I was missing out on. I believe that young girls need to understand that even if they are facing challenges and tough times like sickness, life can be fulfilling. One example that comes to mind is I was treating a young girl with the same bleeding disorder that I was a survivor of, and when I told this girl my story it gave her hope. Even two years later, the girl was discharged and doing well and the fact that I had also recovered was a source of hope for her. We need to find inspiration and hope from within us but also from others like us.
What were your moments of fear and challenges in your career?
I was born and raised in India as a part of a conservative Muslim family. I am a physician by training, and in my family, education for girls was not a priority. It was not from a lack of resources,. Fortunately, though, I realized later that my mom was fighting for me and my education before I knew what to fight for. My mother helped me fight to go to the best school in the city and get the best education I possibly could. Culturally in certain families, it was sometimes even considered a waste of money to send girls to school and to college because parents assumed that they would spend this money on an education; to get the girl married, and someone else would benefit from their investment in the girl’s education.
I practiced medicine in India and in the Middle East as a trained physician and after moving to the United States, decided that I didn’t want to go through that medical training process again, so went on a different path, corporate America. Working in corporate America is tough, but I have had mentors and coaches who have helped me along the way. I’ve had to learn from the ground up and face the same challenges that other women face. My perseverance and desire to learn, have helped to make that difference for me. Through my career
my ability to persevere came from a lot of support from other women leaders and men who helped me get to the position I am at now. They trusted my abilities and hard-work.
I raised a daughter here, in the United States, and remember her coming home from middle school one day and saying, “You don’t know what I’m going through because you’ve never been to a US school.” After that comment, I went back to school and got my Master’s in clinical research. I’ve been at Abbott/Abbvie for the past 17 years and every time I have to fight for an opportunity I draw strength and my motivation from my past. And every time I don’t get that opportunity, I go to my mentor and do some self-reflection. It helps me to realize the changes that needed to be made instead of blaming it on what’s wrong with my environment.
I was a full-time mom, student, and worker. My daughter would sleep and eat in the car on the way to and from school, and when I graduated with my Master’s, my daughter gave me my diploma because she was such a large part of my life and my journey in the US. From these types of experiences, I’ve been able to see my daughter’s approach in taking on challenges and risks
What are some of the latest innovations in science that you are most excited about?
I currently work in the molecular diagnostic division at Abbott. Along the way, some of the innovations in recent times that are helping save lives are successful multi-organ transplants. Mainly in countries like Africa and India early detection of many infectious diseases like HIV, TB etc, enabling us to treat early. We are now in a position to completely cure Hepatitis B as we have advanced treatments and diagnostic technologies. We have innovative devices that can treat congenital heart defects, giving children the ability to live a full-fledged productive life. Additionally, advances in stem cell research fascinate me.
Where did you grow up?
I was born and raised in India in a conservative, Muslim family.
Who was your favorite teacher and why?
My favorite teacher was a math teacher which is funny because in the past I was unable to stand mathematics. She was at my Catholic School in India and made math like an adventure and fun. She was able to make the subjects so much more enjoyable that the grades I got later on in math helped me to get into medical school, and I attribute this to that one math teacher who made math so much fun.
What is your unique talent?
I come from an Orthodox Muslim conservative background and I had a grandmother that would wear the full burqa, including the veil that covered her face. Yet, my grandmother ran a manufacturing unit that made pens, so I grew up around this powerful woman who lived the life of a Muslim following all the traditions and in addition, was an entrepreneur who inherited her husband’s business. Because of this strong female role model, I learned to leverage all available resources and saw no limitations that could deter me from pursuing my path, but I have had the honor and privilege of living a full fledged life due to my survival skills and desire to learn. I have been able to seize the opportunities presented to me and live life to the fullest.
I was a physician by practice and yet have returned to school twice to get two more degrees. The first time I went to IT school to understand data warehouses and the second time I received a Master’s in clinical research and engineering in order to better communicate with the engineers at work. My unique talent is that my toolkit has a variety of sciences in it and it has helped me to grow as a leader within Abbott.
Tell us about your personal style.
You will never catch me without a scarf around my neck. I have an obsession with scarves and probably have hundreds of them. I had to give up my physician’s coat which I lived in throughout medical school and my training and since then have substituted that coat with a scarf. People know me by my scarves. It is a part of who I am.
Who inspires you?
My daughter inspires me and I have lived a second life somewhat vicariously through her and what she wants to do. I want to positively influence girl’s lives and show them the wealth of opportunities that are open to them. I’ve learned that we just have to ask and people are more than willing to help.
What’s next for you?
My daughter will often ask me “What do you want to do when you grow up?” I really want to continue working the way I am working now. I love my job in the industry and no one can say that with more passion than me. I enjoy what I do and throughout the past 17 years, I have evolved within this organization. It has more to do with my learning along the journey.
In the future, I want to be able to influence more women to take on things they are passionate about at work, in a personal setting and at my place of worship. My advice is not necessarily that it has to be a career. It’s about doing what you are passionate about and bringing your entire self to everything you do. We, as women, must find the strength within ourselves to drive ourselves to do what we want and in addition, we must find a network of positive people around us because those are the ones who will help us with our aspirations and inspirations.
One dream of mine is to start a school in my village in India, my grandparents’ village, because there are no good schools nearby and students must travel long distances in order to receive a good education. I would like to have a school that is not just focused on girls, but would also allow boys in these communities to get an education and an opportunity to learn. I wouldn’t want to teach but instead run the school and provide it with resources that would allow students to come and learn if they have the desire to.
I currently mentor around 23 women and each one has different needs and does their work differently. I have women with a more formal structure of mentoring with monthly or biweekly phone calls but more informal ones as well. I could call it coaching in a way and there are around four women who I could consider myself their sponsor. There’s this very shy mentee, I motivated her to do a public presentation on her work. I do a lot of presentations about my work and encouraged her to do the same. This week the woman will be presenting her work to an audience which is something that she has never done before.