Like any day of the week, Nethra’s alarm goes off at 4:30 am. As half the world sleeps on, she goes about her day, making a mental note of the number of patients she has to cover before the sun goes down again.
“Even though the first booking is not until 8 am, a two-hour bus journey awaits me,” says Nethra KS, a 22-year-old phlebotomist with Practo, adding, “But I don’t mind it. I’ve always cherished the silence of early mornings, and it helps me stay energized throughout the day.”
Nethra is part of Practo’s strong team of phlebotomists and medical lab technicians that form a vital cog in the company’s diagnostic business, which continues to grow rapidly amid increased demand for at-home testing for COVID-19 and other ailments. With due health precautions in place, many women like her travel from house to house with kits of medical instruments to collect, store and carry blood samples back to the laboratory where they are duly tested and analyzed by medical professionals.
“Although I worked very briefly as a phlebotomist, I can say for certain that it is not easy,” says Akshita Kishore, 28, who has over six years of experience in this domain and now works as a lab technician with Practo, adding, “Many juggle this with studies, and it was especially challenging during the COVID-19 lockdown periods when public transport was restricted and demand was at an all-time high.”
Breaking the mould with an unconventional career path
With a preset route in mind – and a map of the city in her head – Smita V, makes her way to the next house, which luckily was in the same neighborhood as the last one. At 35, she has spent a significant amount of her professional life working in a lab, and does not mind filling in for colleagues by occasionally venturing into the field again to collect samples from patients.
After verifying the identity of the patient, she carefully readies the syringe and prepares to draw when the patient hesitates. Her years of experience helped her read the situation quickly and she paused.
“During my initial days, I would be surprised to see that many people have an extreme fear of needles or the mere sight of blood,” says Smita, adding, “At first, I didn’t know how to handle it properly, but over time, I’ve learned how to calm nervous patients by sharing an anecdote or explaining the process to keep them distracted. By the end of it, they are quite grateful – not to mention relieved – and that makes my day.”
After sanitizing the space, she labels the sample and records the patient’s information in the database before taking it to the lab. “Earlier I would deliver it to other lab technicians who would analyze the samples and record the findings, but now we work together.”
Boosting female representation in the workforce
Every small success is a sign that we are a step closer to building an inclusive world where women get equal access to opportunities that will ultimately benefit all. Everyone deserves to reach their full potential and their efforts should be supported – not mocked.
“It’s largely been a male dominated line of work because of the narrow assumption that it is not proper for women to walk into strangers’ houses, but I’m glad that that perception is slowly shifting,” says Smita, adding, “Over time, I’ve become inured to the judgemental gaze I sometimes get. After all, what’s life without a challenge?”
According to Akshita, many of her colleagues are still men, but she’s hopeful that things will change soon. “There is greater awareness of unconventional career choices among women now, encouraging them to carve out their own journey, and in the process, change perceptions that developed out of years of social conditioning or lack of insight.”
Adds Nethra, “It is the way I choose to live my life and order my priorities. I’m proud that I’m financially independent at such a young age, and I firmly believe that my willingness to be personally challenged got me where I am today.”
This single, fierce emotion stifles everything else, empowering women like them to find their next step and keep moving. Often delivering roles performed without an audience, they represent a band of women who fearlessly challenge stereotypical notions of gender and advocate for equal rights for all.
This International Women’s Day, let’s celebrate the small wins to achieve the big goals. Change is hard, and progress may feel slow, but the momentum is building as women like them continue to keep one foot in front of the other and forge ahead.