Doctorpreneurs: Dr Nishanth Krishnananthan
Doctorpreneurs of Doctology is pleased this week to showcase an interview with Dr Nishanth Krishnananthan or "Nish" as most know him.
Nish is a surgical doctor with over seven years of clinical experience in medicine and surgery. With a passion for improving patient care in Australia, he co-founded Vantari, a virtual reality software application for medical imaging.
What organisation / startup did you found?
Vantari, a virtual reality application for medical imaging – www.vantarivr.com
What is its noble purpose?
Nine million Australians have medical imaging every year, including CT or MRI. However, a majority of them struggle to understand their scans despite a written report or an explanation from their specialist.
At Vantari, we render these scans in real time into virtual reality (think 3D hologram) to allow doctors to better explain scans to their patients, leading to better patient understanding, satisfaction and outcomes.
For too long we have relied on 2D black and white films. Vantari is going to redefine medical imaging and empower patients to make more informed decisions.
Tell me about the first 10 years of your life?
I grew up in Oman for the first eight years of my life, as my family moved to the Middle East to escape the conflicts back home in Sri Lanka. It was a great place to live as I had the opportunity to be immersed in a different culture. I then moved to Sydney where I have been based for the majority of my life.
What age were you when you had your first paying job?
Despite my best attempts to land a coveted casual job at various food franchises, I was a late bloomer to the employment scene. My first paid job was as a Doctor at the age of 24.
What made you want to be a Doctor and what speciality did you choose?
I come from a large family passionate about healthcare, with a majority of my immediate and extended family, including my mum and sister, being doctors in various specialties. Given this inspiration and my interests in science, as well as the desire to genuinely make a difference to people’s lives, the choice to be a doctor was a no-brainer.
It’s almost impossible to know everything in medicine, something you learn quite quickly, so I still remember the distinct moment that I knew the speciality I wanted to do. Thanks to a brilliant mentor I had at the end of medical school, I chose Surgery and more specifically, Urology.
He motivated me with his work ethic, albeit 3am starts and late finishes, which at the time should have put me off, but I soon realised, when you enjoy something, you no longer count the hours.
What made you want to be an Entrepreneur? When exactly did you decide?
I didn’t truly know what an entrepreneur meant until I strived to become one. It’s a difficult occupation to explain to many because it’s not the result of a certain degree or qualification. I started to realise during my clinical practice that I wanted to make a bigger change to healthcare.
I saw my colleagues doing a great job helping patients in their specialities, but who was helping them? There were so many problems and inefficiencies in the healthcare system, and I didn’t want to just go on with my medical career without taking the opportunity to make a change.
I was lucky to have worked with Vijay, an emergency doctor who always had the aspiration to be an entrepreneur. As part of a team, our first foray into entrepreneurship was creating an online medical community (Doclife) to help connect medical students and doctors.
It fostered core themes such as collegiality and mentorship, which we saw and felt were missing while we were studying/working.
Despite several iterations and putting countless hours of work in, we realised that the medical community in Australia didn’t strictly want it. Providing it as a free website also meant it was difficult for us to sustain, with ongoing costs and time involved in maintaining what we had built.
That deep dive ensured we had learnt the harsh lessons of entrepreneurship, but Vijay and I were motivated to still make a bigger difference in medicine. We saw a way to combine tech and health in a whole new way in 2017, and so, Vantari was born. We haven’t looked back since.
Are you still practicing as a Doctor now? If yes do you intend to stop if your organisation takes off?
Being a doctor is demanding in its own right as you are constantly striving to be perfect. I soon realised, while working as a surgical registrar, that there was little room to achieve my other goals or aspirations.
I also realised through Doclife that tech startups cannot be done part-time. To give yourself the best chance of succeeding, you need to be 100% committed, and entrepreneurship is no different in that it has its own demands just like any other profession. There is a reason why 9 out 10 startups fail.
So after many difficult moments, I took the decision to work full-time on Vantari with Vijay. I am lucky enough to still continue my passion to work in surgery by assisting in operations in various hospitals around Sydney. Vantari is my ultimate goal, but I can always see myself working in the operating theatre in some way.
Why do you think traditionally many Doctors struggle with entrepreneurship?
Entrepreneurship requires you to juggle many hats, and every day is a challenge as you learn something new. It is without a doubt the most mentally exhausting job I have done, and the highs are high, but the lows are very low. It is a constant pendulum of emotions, and you need to do your best to stay motivated and remember why you are doing it.
I believe Doctors struggle with entrepreneurship because it is a foreign concept to many of us. We are taught about the traditional career options post medical school but not about non-clinical work / medical startups, which are often overlooked or frowned upon as legitimate alternatives. It is a rat race to get to the end of speciality training without considering what else is available.
Most importantly, entrepreneurship doesn’t have the security or the structure medicine offers, and we as founders are constantly changing and pivoting in the execution of our ideas. You need to be able to deal with the uncertainty of the next day or month, something I struggled with many a time. I do not know where I’ll be at the end of this year, but rather than worrying, I now embrace it.
What is your favourite quote?
"It always seems impossible until it's done".
What would you do in the event of a Zombie Apocalypse?
I doubt zombies need medical imaging, so I will have to pivot from Vantari and create a startup for my new audience!