Interview: Dr Ashok Banskota

Features Issue 35 Aug, 2010
Text by Dinesh Rai / Photo: ECS Media

I remember meeting an American volunteer at a party in the 1980’s. He had this interesting story to tell. It arted with an accident and a broken leg. So he went to a hospital, had an x-ray and got it plastered. But he was worried. Living in a third world country meant health services were not reliable. He decided to go home and have it checked there by a competent doctor. When he told the doctor in the U.S. how he had traveled to Nepal and met with an accident and decided to come home to treat his broken leg, the doctor seemed surprised. He smiled and asked, “You came all the way from Nepal to the U.S. to get your leg fixed? Haven’t you heard of Dr. Ashok Banskota?

We met Dr. Ashok Banskota, the renowned orthopaedic surgeon at the B& B Hospital, which he established with Dr. Jagdish Lal Baidya. He was born on 27th October, 1948. He spent the years 1955 to 1964 at St. Xavier’s School where he received excellent education under the Jesuit priests. With three other partners, Dr. Banskota opened the Kathmandu Nursing Home in 1986. A year earlier, the Hospital and Rehabilitation Center (HRDC) was opened and Dr. Banskota has been the focal point of service delivery and development of this center. An organization called The Friends of the Disabled of which Dr. Banskota is chairman, runs the center. He is also a professor of Orthopaedic Surgery at Kathmandu University and was awarded Corresponding Membership of the Association of Bone and Joint Surgeons of America in 1985. A recipient of the Gorkha Dakshin Bahu 4th Class, Trisaktipatha 4th, Gorkha Dakshin Bahu 3rd Class and Trisaktipatha 3rd from King Birendra, he was also awarded Gorkha Dakshin Bahu 2nd Class by King Gyanendra. In 2001, he was also awarded the Bhupal Man Singh Karki award  for outstanding contribution to the development of Orthopaedic Services in Nepal. In a quiet meeting room on the fourth floor, Dr Banskota talked of his professional life, his beliefs and his interests.

What do you remember from your days at St. Xavier’s School?

I remember Fr. Watrin was our English Grammar teacher. I knew him since grade 5. He was very strict and very effective in controlling students and crowds. He was very sportsmanlike and later moved to social service. I was very impressed by his love for Nepal. In spite of hardships he stayed on in Nepal. He suffered from rapidly progressive cancer in his last years. He seemed to be getting better but succumbed to his illness at the B & B Hospital. I was probably the last person to talk to him. He was in the intensive care and we chatted about little things. He made death look extremely peaceful and beautiful.

Any special reason why you specialized in orthopaedic surgery?
Even as a school boy, I liked working with my hands. I was good in assembling radios as a hobby. Surgery was natural and I found orthopaedics extremely interesting.

Tell us something about your educational background.
On completing my MBBS from the All India Institute of Medical Sciences, I went to the US for further studies.I did five years of post graduate surgical training in New York starting from 1972. The entire training was completed through a group of hospitals affiliated to Downstate Medical School and Albert Eisenstein Medical College. I then took special short training at New York University and John Hopkins Medical School. After completing all the requirements, I sat for the certifying examination of the American Board of Orthopaedic Surgery in 1977 and passed on my first attempt.

After completing your medical studies, where did you start your career as a doctor?
My first job after returning home was at the Shanta Bhawan Mission Hospital where initially my services were entirely voluntary. I worked there from 1978 to 1982. That is where I realized the severe shortcomings in health care in Nepal. There I also met Dr. Archie Fletcher, an American missionary surgeon. He had a strong influence on me and was my motivating force to stay and work in Nepal.

How did you move on to starting your own practice and your own hospital?

With a partnership of four people, we started the Kathmandu Nursing Home in 1986. This was a pioneering venture in organized private medical and surgical care in Nepal. I also did the first ever Total Hip Replacement in Nepal in a 1990. The Hospital and Rehabilitation Center (HRDC) was opened in 1985 for the poor needy children of Nepal and I am involved in the service delivery and development. This center is run by “The Friends of The Disabled” of which I am the founding chairman. This center is in Banepa. My close friendship with Dr Jagdish L.Baidya also led to our joint venture, the B & B Hospital in Satdobato, Ring Road. This we achieved after closing down Kathmandu Nursing Home. Today B & B Hospital and HRDC are affiliated with Kathmandu University and undergraduate and post graduate medical training is imparted at these institutions.

How do you divide your time between your surgeries, voluntary work and your teaching?
On Mondays, I go to Banepa for administrative work. Then I go for the post graduate teaching. By mid-day I am back at the B & B. There’s interaction with the students who I teach there. Then I go for surgery if there is a need. On Tuesdays, from 8 am there’s class forum for the students and all the doctors. I teach the students and then I’m busy with surgery the rest of the day. I also have a meeting with Dr. Baidya and the staff. On Wednesdays, from 8:30 am I have a teaching round for my students. Then I meet Dr. Baidya; sometimes I attend a meeting at Kathmandu University Or HRDC for a half hour business meeting, sign cheques and papers. Then I go for operations at Banepa Hospital. Thursdays, I spend all day at operations. Every Tuesday and Thursday, I also attend a charity clinic. Then I catch up on writing work, prepare reports, papers and letters. This happens every day, of course. At 6:00 pm I go for group meditation until 8:00 pm. Fridays, I start with a long teaching round. Then I attend the clinic seeing patients and teaching special Hand Clinic. I also spend time writing articles, meeting with other associations and helping students with their thesis. First thing in the evening I go for meditation then catch up with my reading. I go to bed at around 10:30-11:00 pm. Saturdays, I indulge in my pastimes like reading spiritual books, especially something to do with my Guru Yogananda. I also do some professional reading. I then go for a 1 hr to 1 ½ hr walk with my daughter and talk. We have quiet meals. I give extra time to meditation from 4:00 to 7:00 pm. We clean up the place where we meditate (we have set up our own meditation center) and help the people who come there. Sunday, from 8:00 am, we have a post graduate seminar. Then I do my rounds with 1st year post graduate students. The rest of the day I am engaged with operations.

It must be a very rewarding job healing people.

I couldn’t have had a better job. My dreams have been fulfilled. But a lot more can be done.

 A few questions on health— Are backaches usually due to lack of exercise? Or bad lifestyle?
Overeating and lack of exercise are the usual causes. But also not realizing that the mind can overcome a lot of problems is a factor.

Does jogging have any harmful effects on the backbone?
The backbone is built to withstand tremendous forces.  But jogging on hard surfaces can affect the heel.

What does one have to do to keep the bones healthy?

You should eat the right kind of food with lots of green vegetables. I would recommend a vegetarian diet and meditation. Avoid rich meat, and get adequate exposure to sunlight.

We’ve always heard stories about you and doctors from Bangkok. What’s the real story?
Actually, the late Queen Aishworya had broken her hand and I attended to her. When they were in Bangkok, a doctor saw her hand in a cast. They wanted to operate on the hand. I was consulted by the Queen, so I flew to Bangkok and persuaded them not to operate. They listened to my arguments and eventually agreed. The late Queen relied on me. When she broke an ankle in Chitwan, I was flown down to attend to her. So that’s the story.

Is anybody in the family following in your footsteps?
Out of two sons, Bibek (second son) is pursuing a career in surgery (orthopaedics). Anil (older son) is engaged in creative media. Chetana (youngest daughter) is a human resource specialist.

What are your interests outside of your profession?

For over ten years now, the guiding principle in my life has been my Guru preceptor Sri Sri Paramahansa Yogananda, the acclaimed author of the all time bestseller “Autobiography of a Yogi”. I live by his teachings, blending meditation and a spiritually focused life with balanced work.