Founding Editor's Life Story

In this post, I reveal my story and the reasons for choosing a non-conventional life path, which is often a query of my acquaintances. - Dr. Naval Asija

Dr. Naval Asija received his schooling from a well-known neighborhood school [1] in Delhi, although it was not considered very famous or prestigious. An academically bright student in school, he was one of the few students from his school to achieve distinction in all the five subjects in the board exams of grade 10, including Hindi and Social Studies besides English, Science, and Maths, with missing the maximum by only 3 in Maths (97/100). Back in 2000, when the markings schemes were not very liberal, this was a rare achievement, that even the toppers of his school could not manage as they missed distinctions in Hindi or Social Studies by few marks. So, it presented a difficult choice for him to select a formal discipline out of Science, Commerce, and Humanities. 

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He selected the Science stream with both Biology and Maths together. Although he wanted to add computer science, however, the provisions of his school did not allow the combination of Biology, Maths, and Computer Science together. He was in the Biology section but attended Maths classes without most of his classmates since they chose physical education in place of Maths. Throughout high school, he missed studying Social studies and Hindi. 

He was eligible for and appeared in both Engineering and Medical Entrance exams, and was selected in both. He chose medical education since his parents preferred him to become a doctor as his elder brother was already pursuing an engineering education. In 2002, he was selected in a prestigious medical college in South India, [2] part of a medical university campus, and had to move to Chennai for the next five years. He loved the first few years of medical school wherein he could learn so much from the books, especially those written by foreign authors, and directly from some of his brilliant medical teachers. 

As he started his classes in community medicine, which has a slight element of humanities and mathematics in it, he started really liking the subject. At the same time, clinical medicine was proving hard for him to learn, While most of his friends were enjoying their clinical postings and loved flaunting their skills with the stethoscope, and other clinical instruments, he was struggling to decipher even the basics like the two heart sounds. There was another barrier, i.e., Tamil. Although he attended special classes, he could never master spoken or written Tamil, which was further discouraging him from spending time in the hospital wards.

That was the time that he first thought of choosing a non-clinical career, however, he was discouraged by everyone he knew, since the non-clinical positions were considered less prestigious, and the first doctor in the family must pursue a clinical specialty to realize the dreams of every family member who is already addressing him by the title of a doctor since day one of the medical school. Thus, it was hard to even think of choosing a clinical specialty over a non-clinical specialty.

Right before his final exams of medical school, he, unfortunately, developed a serious medical illness leading to hospitalization for a few days. Despite that, he was able to clear my final exams with the support of friends and the college administration. However, it led him to move closer to home to complete his one-year clinical internship. Thus, after living in Chennai for almost five years, he moved back to Delhi and completed his internship at a reputed public hospital, [3] wherein he managed to strike a better bond with the clinical care since the language barrier no longer existed. 

After his internship and before the postgraduate entrance exams there was a brief gap, which many of his friends used to study or gain clinical experience. He chose that time to test whether he could better do a non-clinical job or a clinical job. First, he joined the contractual position of a district-level epidemiologist in a district in Punjab [4]. He thoroughly enjoyed working there for 5-6 months, but could not continue as his entrance exams were approaching. As he wrote his entrance exams and was waiting for the results, there was again a brief gap that he utilized to test himself in a clinical position. He was able to join the emergency department of one of the most prestigious hospitals in Delhi/India [5] as a contractual resident doctor and worked there for almost 3 months. The period helped him realize the worth of a clinical career, but he missed being a non-clinical doctor. 

Soon, he cleared my postgraduate entrance examination, the time was ripe for the toughest decision of his life. By that time, he had made up his mind to choose public health or related discipline that had a touch of Maths and Humanities despite being heavy on the Medical stuff, that too in a Delhi-based college since central government institutions had the best facilities and salaries. He managed to get admission into one such institution, [6] despite heavy pressure from his family and friends not to give up clinical medicine. 

The next two years were widely stimulating. He received multidisciplinary education from several national experts and completed a dissertation that involved fieldwork of a month's duration in Bihar. He was also judged as the best outgoing student in the course. By that time, he had hoped to join an international organization working in the health sector. 

He was successful to join a contractual position in a project run by one of the most prestigious public health organizations [7]. It was related to polio eradication and led him to move into a small district in Uttar Pradesh for the next six months. The job was very tough on him and involved extensive physical and mental efforts, wherein he realized his limitation as an individual to take up such a high-pressure job. By that time, he was also marriage-ready and planned to get hitched to a Delhi-based dental surgeon. 

Facing the difficulties of living in a remote place and about to be married, he moved back to Delhi and joined an IT company [8] in the capacity of a med-tech physician. This was a relatively cool, permanent job, that offered enough remuneration. creativity and flexibility. He continued that for the next four years. However, unluckily, the project did not get much traction and there were few chances for continued professional growth. After four years, he decided to move on to a better-paying job in a Pharmaceutical company [9]. There, new avenues of writing, marketing, and sales were introduced to him by the virtue of the job. That gave him enough confidence to evaluate the option of being self-employed in his life. By that time, his wife had also launched her own private practice and was doing good. His father had been a self-employed person all his life and so was his brother. He could no longer resist the temptation of being in control and decided to shift course.

In 2018, exactly after a decade of medical school, he became a freelance professional. Believing in the power of technology, he chose to use different IT platforms to market and sell his services. He explored blogging and writing for Q/A forums to reach more people and sharpen his skills. Gradually, he started receiving small contracts from individual clients, which over time multiplied into different industries, such as IT startups, digital and traditional publishers, and medical communication companies, and different skill sets such as writing, editing, consulting, fact-checking, ontology-taxonomy services, and into making a decent living while working from his home-based office.

Meanwhile, life continued and he was blessed with two lovely children. He felt to share it with the world that it is okay to be a non-clinical doctor, that it is okay to choose non-conventional life paths, that it is okay to be different from the herd. Although this offers its own challenges, yet, neither, he is not the first person to do it and certainly not the last. 

However, he believed that there was a need for a platform that presented the unconventional and inspiring stories of the most successful non-clinical doctors balancing that with the information on the associated challenges faced by such non-clinical doctors. He also believed that though several career-guidance platforms existed for young medicos, none of them focus on the journey of being a non-clinical doctor. Thus, the Journey of a Non-Clinical Doctor was born.  


[1] Lovely Public Senior Secondary School, P.D. Vihar, Delhi. A CBSE-affiliated School.

[2] Sri Ramachandra University, Chennai. A Deemed University often ranked among the top 10 medical colleges in India.

[3] Dr. Ram Manohar Lohia Hospital, Delhi.

[4] Epidemiologist, Integrated Disease Surveillance Project (IDSP), Ferozepur, Punjab.

[5] Junior Resident, Emergency Medicine, All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), Delhi.

[6] Diploma in Health Administration, National Institute of Health and Family Welfare (NIHFW), University of Delhi.

[7] Surveillance Medical Officer, Ferozabad, Uttar Pradesh, National Polio Surveillance Project (NPSP), WHO Country Office for India.

[8] Specialist, Synodex, Innodata India Pvt. Ltd. Subsidiary of Innodata Inc, USA

[9] Manager, Medical Services, Win-Medicare Pvt. Ltd., Delhi, Umesh Modi Group.

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