Dr. Munish Batra of ‘Coastal Medical Group’: “You must be the change that you want to see in the world”

“You must be the change that you want to see in the world.” This is a quote from Mahatma Gandhi. Once I started on this journey, I realized that I needed to change myself before I could preach to others. In recognition of that, my lifestyle has changed significantly. I no longer eat meat and I […]

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“You must be the change that you want to see in the world.”

This is a quote from Mahatma Gandhi. Once I started on this journey, I realized that I needed to change myself before I could preach to others. In recognition of that, my lifestyle has changed significantly. I no longer eat meat and I look at animals as part of our natural order and not as subservient being’s incapable of feeling love, fear, or pain.

As part of my series about “individuals and organizations making an important social impact”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Munish K. Batra.

Munish K. Batra, M.D. was born in Kanpur, India on Halloween in 1965, which he always felt was fateful. His family emigrated to the U.S. in 1972. He devoured J.D. Salinger and Kurt Vonnegut in high school, and entered Ohio State University with the goal of becoming a writer. However, he eventually gave in to parental pressure and studied medicine, attending medical school at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland. During his third year of med school, he joined the U.S. Army as a reservist.

He entered a general surgery and trauma residency at St. Luke’s Medical Center, and during that time he assisted with military operations for Operation: Desert Storm at Fort Ord in Monterey. This led him to seek out California as his new home. After his general surgery training, he completed a plastic surgery residency and a craniofacial and pediatric plastic surgery fellowship.

Dr. Batra’s extensive experience in trauma and reconstructive surgery and craniofacial surgery has been put to charitable use at missions overseas, and he has lent his services during natural disasters such as the tsunami that struck southeast Asia in 2004 and the earthquake that devastated Nepal in 2011. In his new hometown of San Diego, he has started Doctors Offering Charitable Services (DOCS), which provides charitable surgeries to the less fortunate in Southern California.

His cosmetic practice is one of the busiest in the nation, and Dr. Batra has been featured in People, The Los Angeles Times, and many other national media outlets, as well as on The Oprah Winfrey Show. He is active in developing multispecialty medical practices that put patient care and the doctor-patient relationship at the center of health care.

Dr. Batra is currently collaborating with Keith R.A. DeCandido on other fiction projects, and is also working on a nonfiction book called Medical Madness. He also enjoys Brazilian jiu-jitsu, yoga, and meditation. His wife Pooja and their three young children, Ayaan, Kairav, and Kiara, offer him constant encouragement and support.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

My specific career path, that of being a plastic and reconstructive surgeon, stems from the two options presented to me in college by my Indian immigrant parents: doctor or engineer. Despite wanting to go to college for writing, I chose to go to medical school and I became a plastic surgeon. My work has taken me to Third World countries including India, Nepal, and South America. The mainstay of my work is doing reconstruction for birth defects, burn injuries as a result of acid attacks, and injuries related to trauma. During these humanitarian trips I also came to learn about the plight of animals and the brutality inflicted upon them. In particular, on a trip to China, I saw carcasses of dogs and cats hanging in a market and that left an indelible imprint on me. I began the process of researching animal abuses and poaching.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company or organization?

Almost immediately after I began the process of researching animal abuse and putting together the outline of the novel, I was approached by a sound engineer who had worked on the Equalizer movies with Denzel Washington. He felt that my idea to write Animal was a very unique idea, and introduced me to the film’s producer, Tony Eldrige, who immediately optioned Animal for a movie script.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

There are several incidents I can recall in which, in retrospect, a funny mistake taught me a lesson.

On our trip to Nepal for reconstructive surgery for earthquake victims we had to make a decision about how to get to the camp in the mountainous regions of Nepal. The patients and victims had no resources to travel to the main city, where we were housed, so we had to make arrangements to go to them.

Dr Bhupesh Vashist and I packed up our equipment and took a taxi into the mountains. About a block away from the hotel our taxi driver jumped out and what appeared to be a young boy took his place. Before either of us could say a word, he tore away at a fast pace heading up the mountain.

Dr. Vashist and I were a little puzzled. To reassure me, Dr. Vashist mentioned that the people in Nepal were actually of shorter stature and that the driver was likely to be older than we thought, like the Sherpas who served as guides for the mountainous treks up Mount Everest.

As the driver took the sharp turns along the mountain side, Dr. Vashist and I noticed the carcasses of wrecked buses and cars littered along the mountain side. We both just closed our eyes and felt it was best for us to pay respects to Buddha and hope for the best. Some four hours later we arrived at the campsite and it was at that time that we learned that the driver was a 12-year-old boy who frequently took this journey to transport food and supplies to the village.

On another trip to a city called Jalandha, one of our new colleagues was excited to join our efforts and was writing a diary about all the daily experiences. Though he was Indian, he was raised in the US and we had all warned him that the flora was different in India. We made sure he knew to drink only bottled water and to only eat well cooked food.

Needless to say, he allowed some of the water to get into his mouth while he was brushing his teeth. My other colleagues and I ended up having to take turns checking on him in between our surgeries while he lay on a cot in the waiting room with other patients.

As there were no modern toilets or bathrooms, he was too embarrassed or unaccustomed to using the hole in the ground. Finally, when it got to be too uncomfortable, he pulled his scrubs and underwear off, only to find that when he looked for his clothes, they were sitting with some monkeys up in a tree.

Can you describe how you or your organization is making a significant social impact?

There are several organizations which benefit animals and are there to help these sentient beings. I don’t see us as animal activists per se but rather writers who want people to reflect on how animals are treated and to change their behavior accordingly.

While fundraising and donating money is something, we hope to do through the sales of the Animal book and the movie, the idea of a vigilante that protects these innocent and helpless beings is something we have not seen previously in any significant way and literature or movies. As Raymond Benson, the author of many James Bond novels, has asked, “Is it ever justifiable to commit a horrific crime to protect the innocent?”

Can you tell us a story about a particular individual who was impacted or helped by your cause?

One of the cases where we felt like we did tremendous benefit for a patient was someone that was referred to as “Deld Moochay,” which translates into one and a half mustache.

We had operated on hundreds of women who had third-degree burn injuries from acid attacks and hundreds of children with congenital and traumatic birth defects, but the reason this patient stood out in my mind was because he belonged to the lowest caste in India.

Even among his village and in his family, he was laughed at and felt a loss of dignity. In the Indian culture, a well-established mustache is a sign of respect. This patient had burned his lip on an oil lamp and he had a burn scar in the middle of his mustache, which is why the other villagers made fun of him and called him “deld moochay.”

While the case itself would only take minutes and was not a challenge reconstructively, the patient could not afford even this type of operation as he was a rickshaw driver and barely made enough to feed himself and his family. Though my colleagues and I had packed up our belongings to leave and travel back to New Delhi for our flight back to the US, we decided to delay our departure and break open our instrument packs. We took him to the operating room and under local anesthesia cut out the scar and reattached his mustache. What I remember most is after he got up from the table and looked at himself on one of the shiny stainless-steel cabinets, a large grin came across his face and he thanked us and blessed us to have a safe journey.

I see these humanitarian efforts as being inextricably linked to my current efforts to educate others about treating animals humanely. Just like people, animals are sentient beings that need our love and care. I now have in my life an incredible dog whom we adopted from an animal rescue as a puppy, and who is now 10 years old. She was in a no-kill shelter and we have donated money over the years to that and other such shelters.

Are there three things the community/society/politicians can do to help you address the root of the problem you are trying to solve?

I think 3 important steps would be to curb game-hunting, stop animal-trophy retreats, and prevent the import of ivory. Starting in early childhood, people should be educated that animals feel pain, have consciousness, and are part of our natural order. With luck, that will help to prevent further species from extinction.

How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?

Leadership, to me, is not necessarily just being a leader but understanding the strengths of your team and collaborators.

For instance, I have a very busy surgical practice, and while my goal is to bring the plight of animals to light, I realize that I cannot commit the amount of time and energy necessary to further this goal on my own. Therefore, I’ve hired a team that’s committed to the same goals and has the same passion. This is what ultimately allows me to be successful as a leader.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.

“Many people will commit to causes but only a few will follow through.”

Every year, as we plan on doing humanitarian missions, we will have many people enthusiastic about joining us. But by the time it comes to buying our plane tickets and getting ready, there’s typically only three or four of us that end up going. This was true with an earthquake in Nepal, where we had over 30 people interested and only three of us went. It’s far easier to say you’ll do a thing than actually do the thing.

“You must be the change that you want to see in the world.”

This is a quote from Mahatma Gandhi. Once I started on this journey, I realized that I needed to change myself before I could preach to others. In recognition of that, my lifestyle has changed significantly. I no longer eat meat and I look at animals as part of our natural order and not as subservient being’s incapable of feeling love, fear, or pain.

“People are busy with their own lives and struggles, and it is all relative.”

On a trip to India, an incident stuck out for me. As I was leaving one of the temples, I had some food in my hand and was about to give it to a stray dog when suddenly an elderly woman grabbed my hand and asked if she could have the food for her daughter. I was shocked and heartbroken. I gave her the food for her daughter and then went back to the temple and bought some more food for the dog.

“When you think you’ve done enough, there’s always more to do.”

I’ve spent many years of my life trying to give back to communities in one way or another. Part of it has been out of a sense of obligation and guilt. I was one of the few people that made it out of our poor little village in India and have achieved success. When I reflect on the work, I’ve done with congenital birth defects and reconstructive surgery and going to disaster zones like the tsunami in Japan or the earthquake in Nepal, I realize that there is an endless amount of good work that can be done. Even if there are thousands of people like me out there, we just scratch the surface. One incident I remember is when I was in Mexico. I was ready to fly out on a Sunday morning and a woman walked up to me with her 17-year-old son with a cleft lip and palate. She had walked over three days to get to the camp. Rather than take the flight out, I stayed behind with an assistant to repair his facial deformity. This two-hour operation was able to make a significant impact on this person ‘s life. The mother rewarded us with a bowl of guacamole and chips.

“We’re not going to change the world overnight.”

As a surgeon, I realize I am very impatient and want results right away. One thing I’ve learned is that I have to be more patient with everything I do. I’ve spent over seven years working on Animal. We have finally arrived at the publication phase and I hope that it is successful so we can donate our profits to the Humane Society and make an impact that way.

You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

The movement I would want to inspire is teaching children early in their lives compassion and kindness and empathy from their toddler years on up. I would hope they could express those same characteristics to both humans and animals in the world around them.

Can you please give us your favorite” Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“Success is to be measured not so much by the position one has achieved in their life but by the obstacles he has overcome”

That’s a quote by Booker T. Washington. It’s relevant to my life because I grew up in a small village in India without running water or many of the basic necessities that we have in our life here in the U.S. I have struggled and worked diligently to get to my position in life. I am very thankful to have the support of my family, my parents, my wife and children, and to have been able to achieve these successes.

Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂

I would love to hang out with Joaquin Phoenix. I think he is of the same ilk and that he also sees that animals are sentient beings that we should protect.

How can our readers follow you on social media? is the website for the book, is the Instagram

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