From margins to mainstream: Dr Nisha Khot’s pursuit

By Indira Laisram
Dr Nisha Khot (MD, FRCOG, FRANZCOG, AFRACMA) // Pic supplied

Dr Nisha Khot, the newly appointed Chair of the Multicultural Centre for Women’s Health, is buzzing with enthusiasm and zeal in her new role

When Dr Nisha Khot finished her medical training as a gynaecologist in Pune, India, and subsequently worked in a local public hospital, she found women’s healthcare treated as “the Cinderella of all medical specialties”. Women’s health was not considered a mainstream focus within the field of medicine; it was on the periphery.

A year later, when she moved to the United Kingdom, where she would spend the next ten years working, Khot realised the situation was similar there; it was not unique to India. Upon arriving in Australia in 2010, she realised that women’s healthcare is marginalised no matter where one goes.

“I still observe the trend of women’s health not being at the centre of healthcare; it is pushed to the side and doesn’t receive as much funding as other aspects of healthcare,” rues Khot, who is currently the Clinical Director of Obstetrics & Gynaecology at Peninsula Health Service.

Dr Nisha Khot with MCWH CEO A Murdolo and MP K Theophanus // Pic supplied

In all this, those left underserved are frequently from minority backgrounds, says Khot. While in India, it is often women marginalised by caste and economic strata, in the UK and Australia, it is often women from multicultural communities. This awareness would propel Khot to actively engage in promoting equitable healthcare distribution for all women.

Since arriving in Australia—a move that, by the way, Khot notes was the traditional path following her husband, an oncologist who sought to conduct research here—she has had an interest in a broader role beyond clinical care.

Khot initially worked at Werribee Mercy Hospital before becoming the Clinical Director of Obstetrics and Gynaecology at Bacchus Marsh Hospital. Her appointment followed a series of newborn deaths and stillbirths in the hospital’s maternity ward before 2015. Khot is said to have successfully transformed the ward into one of Victoria’s safest, meeting the highest safety standards of the Victorian Managed Insurance Authority (VMIA).

A few years ago, Khot joined the board of the Multicultural Centre for Women’s Health (MCWH) to understand the organisation’s mission and operations. “After years of clinical work, where I could see the impact on individuals one at a time, I began to realise the broader community that I couldn’t reach directly.”

Dr Nisha Khot (MD, FRCOG, FRANZCOG, AFRACMA) // Pic supplied

2023 was a year of wearing two significant hats for Khot. In December, she assumed the role of Chair at MCWH and earlier in the year she was appointed Vice President of The Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RANZCOG). The motivation behind these roles remains consistent: the desire to instigate changes that impact a larger number of people rather than one person at a time.

Khot advocates for women prioritising prevention over treatment. “Women from multicultural backgrounds have low engagement with preventive healthcare. This stems partly from our diverse backgrounds, where healthcare systems prioritise treatment over prevention.

“Additionally, we often prioritise the health of our families over our own, neglecting self-care. These factors contribute to our lower participation in preventive measures. There’s also a lack of realisation regarding the significance of prevention—often driven by the attitude of “no symptoms, nothing’s wrong.” Shifting this mindset is crucial; instead of waiting for issues to arise, we should proactively engage in preventive measures to safeguard our future well-being,” she says.

There is also, in the case of Indians, the tendency to explore Ayurveda or alternative treatments before opting for mainstream medical help, she adds. “Conditions like fertility issues, endometriosis, or heavy periods may necessitate proper medical treatment, which we have readily available.”

Dr Nisha Khot (MD, FRCOG, FRANZCOG, AFRACMA) // Pic supplied

At the same time, Khot advocates for doctors to genuinely listen to women’s concerns. “Too often, women report being told that their issues are just part of being a woman or that they will outgrow them. It’s crucial for our community to shift towards taking women’s complaints seriously and prioritising their health.”

As Chair of MCWH, Khot wants to work on awareness and advocacy and also be at the table where decisions are made on the allocation of funds and resources. The role involves engaging with collaborators, stakeholders, politicians, and women affected by these conditions, employing a multifaceted approach that synthesises information from diverse sources.

“The impactful aspect lies in the unity of these efforts. The combined strength of numerous individuals striving for the same goal will bring about a significant difference,” she believes.

It’s not about suggesting men don’t pay attention to women’s health, she explains. It’s about recognising the power of women in leadership across various domains—politics, healthcare, and advocacy, emphasising that it’s the unified strength that truly matters in driving meaningful progress.

Dr Nisha Khot (MD, FRCOG, FRANZCOG, AFRACMA) // Pic supplied

So how does she plan to infuse cultural sensitivity into MCWH programs? Khot cites a significant initiative involving the prevention of stillbirths in Australia. They found that a well-executed program targeting Australian-born women lacked impact on stillbirth rates for women from multicultural backgrounds. So, rather than attributing it solely to health literacy, the MCWH, in collaboration with the Stillbirth Centre of Research Excellence, identified the need for culturally appropriate communication.

They created culturally sensitive resources in multiple languages to reduce risks for multicultural women. Khot suggests this model could be extended to other health initiatives beyond stillbirth prevention.

Khot emphasises the need for multicultural women to actively pursue leadership roles, urging decision-makers to recognise the value they bring. This diversity offers unique perspectives, providing transformative insights for the entire organisation, irrespective of its nature.

Dr Nisha Khot (MD, FRCOG, FRANZCOG, AFRACMA) // Pic supplied

Khot tells me she starts the day cherishing her quiet moments with a cup of coffee, the best five minutes of tranquillity before the hustle starts.

There’s more work on her plate now, but she says she categorises work into two types: “The kind you do out of necessity, to pay the bills, and the kind you do because you want to, because it fills your heart and soul. My work resides in that space. I would prefer to earn a little less money but gain more fulfillment for my heart and soul.”

There are no such things as balance, she says with a laugh. “If you genuinely love your profession, the concept of balance becomes seamless because your work is something you enjoy.”

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