The term ‘ups and downs’ doesn’t quite get across the dynamic career graph of Dr Navtej Sandhu who has gone on to own a chain of medical centres from being a taxi driver in South Australia. Come June 5, he will be inducted as an officer of the Australian Defence Force as a reservist at the age of 53.
Dr Sandhu was already a medical doctor when he came to Australia from India in 2004. Unhappy with the working conditions in Punjab, he quit his government sector job and moved to South Australia to study information technology at the age of 40.
“I used to attend my classes in the morning and drove a taxi in the evening,” says Dr Sandhu.
But a few months later, he got a job as a GP in Woomera, a regional town in SA, where he was on call 24/7.
“I was the only GP in the entire area, and even when I used to buy groceries, I had to inform and seek permission,” he recalls.
He stayed in Woomera for a year before returning to Adelaide to start his first medical centre in 2008.
Last week, Dr Sandhu’s commitment was recognised with the Defence Reserves Support Council’s Employer Support Awards in the small business category. The award ceremony took place in Canberra, and he was the only winner from South Australia.
Dr Sandhu won this award for supporting a nurse at his Hackham Medical Centre, Toni Chapel who is a Lance Corporal in the reserves.
“Toni Chapel earlier nominated us for a state award which we won and then we automatically got nominated for the national award.”
Dr Sandhu says he had always wanted to join the Army when he was young but couldn’t do so because of family reasons.
“You know that Sikhs have this thing for the Army in their mind and blood. But my mother was opposed to the idea because I was the only son of my parents."
But it was during the state award ceremony that his latent desire to don the uniform and join the officer ranks came to fore once again and things were set in motion to fulfil it.
“When I was at the state awards, I just asked out of curiosity if I could join the Army at 53. They said ‘yes’, and it all began then and there. I have completed all the requisite training and will be inducted on the 5th,” he says.
Dr Sandhu has cleared all the exams and the fitness test and will be joining as a doctor Captain in the Reserves.
Though he runs seven medical centres in South Australia today, Dr Sandhu has had his share of struggles.
Coming from a small town in Punjab, his family moved him to Amritsar to study medicine.
He said he couldn’t get into medicine straight away and had to complete a college degree and then study pharmacy. But he continued to prepare for the MBBS studies and finally made the cut for admission to the course.
After completing his medicine degree, he landed a government job as a doctor and became the president of the state government medical professionals body.
After moving to Australia, he got a masters degree in IT before starting his own medical centres and becoming a skin cancer specialist.
While many his situation would like to sit back and look at their achievements with a sense of pride, but it seems Dr Sandhu doesn’t want to take it easy any time soon.
He is soon embarking on his next mission in Canada where he will learn new techniques to carry out surgical procedures.
But his long-term aim is to do something for his home state Punjab.
“I treat drug addicts here. But when I am in a position, I want to start drug treatment centres in Punjab on no profit, no loss basis, so that I am able to give back to my country,” he says.