Dr. Samantha Pillay - Neurologist Surgeon talks Resilience

dr samantha pillay neurologist neurology resilience resilient surgeon Jun 27, 2022


Dr Samantha Pillay is a surgeon, entrepreneur, two-time Amazon No1 best selling author, educator, & speaker. She was a finalist nominee for SA Australian of the Year 2022. Having seen patients faced with the consequences when prevention is all too late, Dr Pillay motivates audiences to see why health prevention cannot be put off until tomorrow.

(The following text has been transcribed)

Welcome back. It's Kim Hayden with Kim Talks. I am super excited. I'm telling you, today is all about mindset. And you know what better way than to reach out to women globally. And today we're so excited. We have, you know, down under. We're going to the other side And it's really you know, our next guest is really 100% about where you put your mind and your will. You can do things differently, better and move forward. So I want to welcome Samantha. Actually, Dr. Stanford I love the doctor and friend said Samantha overcame physical limitations from a congenital heart dysplasia. I hope I said that right. And smashed the glass ceiling by becoming South Australia's first female urologist. Surgeon, urological surgeon. I say that right. She will work with me both. I am on my husband's computer and not at home, so I work with a different setup here. But back to Samantha. She is a passionate business woman founder, an entrepreneur and a doctor. Don't forget. This is like a pretty cool lady here. She advocates gender equality, disability inclusion and cultural diversity, reducing the stigma of urinary incontinence and raising awareness about preventable chronic diseases. Her first two books. So that means she has more to do. The first two books, the No Recipe Cookbook and When I'm a Surgeon, were amazing. Number one bestsellers. Her inspirational career, career picture book inspires children to dream big and aim high, instilling self-belief. Samantha is one of four finalists, nominees for South Australia's Australian of the Year. 20, 22. This is amazing. And you know what, Samantha? You're going to be surprised, my dear. We actually have a story for you, but we're going to hold off on that. I'm going to be quiet here because I had, like, jumbled and stumbled over the intro, and I'm going to have smacked Tell us who you are, where you are right now. You're on my bucket list, just so you know and what you do.


Thank you, Kim. Thank you for having me on the show. Well, I'm in Adelaide, South Australia, and please come visit. I am a surgeon. I trained. I was the first female in my state of South Australia to train in urology and I specialize in incontinence surgery. I was born with that wasn't hot, was hip, congenital hip dysplasia, which wasn't picked up. So I sort of failed to walk that at school in a wheelchair and just had a long, long road of getting mobile with quite a lot of restrictions or through school and high school, and just had to manage that limited mobility as well as sort of chronic pain, which I'd had since birth. And I had a hip replacement five years ago which has helped me in my fifties be more mobile than I'd ever been before. But that has been probably the most defining aspect of what I do and how I do it. From the moment I wake up to the moment I go to bed I am a business owner. I started a medical practice, a surgical practice as a solo surgeon more than 20 years ago and have built that into a sort of specialist center with other surgeons and doctors. I'm a single mum and then I also do public speaking and I'm an author and that's kind of all. And I get in the middle of the night too.


Just kind of all of it. Oh yes. And she's like, it is like thorium over there. So, Australia has Australians on my list. It's interesting because one of the things that really could be into you was my daughter at three and a half, she was fully potty trained everything, and then at three and a half she started having issues and then they found out that something about her, her bladder had overdeveloped and it was causing issue back up into the kidneys and we had to get a sting and each other breathing a tube and we went through we went through probably six years of specialty work medication fever like she's got 48% function on each kidney now, you know, so. So really, I mean, this is not when we think of incontinence and we think of confidence, this is not an old person issue. This is something that rattled my daughter right. And really in many ways was a challenge for her, even as a young female. Like, you know, these are these, you know, the pain she was in and when you talk about chronic pain, this child was in chronic pain. So knowing that these are your clients, the full age range and the specialty, why did you select this specialty? Because there's a gazillion things you could fix in a body. Why this specialty? Then we're going to move into how to build a business when you're in an academic or medical field.


So when I did I went to medical school wanting to do surgical training and you have different rotations. And it's kind of one of those things. What you do every one of these is great. I want to do this. You know, this is great. I want to do this. Urology is one of the specialties where there's a lot of sit down surgery and the operations are too long. Everyone said, you know, if you do medicine, you can't do surgery because I couldn't stand and I had mobility issues. And that in itself was a hurdle. So I had to take that into consideration that I chose, especially when I could sit down. I also chose a specialty. No one really was specializing in that area. Urology tends to be predominated by prostate cancer and men's health, and that women, I felt, kind of got left behind. There was no one specializing in urinary incontinence at that time as I said, I was the first female in South Australia. I was the first urologist in the whole of Australia and New Zealand to exclusively sub-specialize in female and functional urology. So I specialize in that area. A lot of people did not. There were some people before me that had a strong interest in that area, but they still practice in general urology. So that was I suppose how I came into that particular specialty.

So you didn't find it interesting that you had a goal and yet you looked for the ways that you could accommodate or accomplish that goal within. Well, what would be the limitations? So take me through the mindset because a lot of people, a lot of people out there go, Oh, I can't do that. And that's what I really love about what you're saying. 


It's kind of really interesting. I think the older you get, the more hindsight you have in the more perspective you have on things. So this kind of is with what you're talking about. I've always had that belief that I can do it or focused on what I could do and never looked at what I couldn't do. And that happened to a small child who couldn't run. I couldn't play sports. If I thought about what I could do, I would have just been a wreck. So I always had to focus on what I could do or how I could do something. And that led to me setting goals and achieving those goals. But similarly, when it came to goal setting, I was very, very limited. I lacked female role models. I didn't, you know, I mean, growing up, you know, I finished school in 1985. I didn't have a lot of ideas of what I could do as an academic woman and a lot of women were in the same position and so it wasn't like I was, I'm going to be an astronaut, I'm going to go to the moon. I didn't have those big or audacious dreams or goals. I very much followed the breadcrumbs and I think there's plenty of people who've gone that way. I thought I was going to be a surgeon. I didn't think I was going to be a surgeon. I'm going to a surgical center. I'm going to do this, this, this and this. And that is one of the things that I'm actually really passionate about, inspiring the next generation of young girls to dream big, aim high, follow their dreams. Because although I achieved a lot, I actually feel that I could have achieved a lot more and maybe an easier or quicker path if I'd had those clear goals rather than thinking or I'll be I want to do medicine, I want to do surgery, all which area of surgery. And it's sort of evolving in that way. So similarly, you know, there was a lot of difficulties and gender biases as I faced as the first woman and I kind of realized the only way I was going to be able to not be a token female was to start my own center of excellence and lead from what I get. I have no business skills, so all of that set me on that path rather than this big vision. And so I acquired skills along the way. Like many female founders, the way any founder or any entrepreneur, you know, one of my favorite sayings is, you know, it's like jumping off a cliff and assembling the plane on the way down.


So yes.


Anyone in the business can relate.


You have no parachute and there's never a parachute.


There's no emergency escape or copilot or any autopilot or anyone to call for help. So there is one aspect of that sort of needing those big goals, which I didn't have, but incrementally having goals and achieving those goals. And as soon as I did, I set a new goal.


Amazing, yeah. You know, and it is the tenacity, the focus it takes to even get to the level that you went. You've gone into medicine and now you shift into now we move into the entrepreneur. And then you also then moved over into the creative space, becoming a published author. So taking all that experience. Tell me, like what was your journey of knowing these books, this is what you're doing and because you've had a really solid response to these books, so tell me what that journey was like. I mean, a lot of people, they stay in their lane, right? Whereas you're like you're just building off ramps. It's like, okay, next, next, next. So tell me about that book.


I love learning and I love studying. You know, if I had a holiday and I could just sit and study all day for 12 hours, that's my perfect holiday. So that's a little bit weird. I know, but I love learning new things. I think a lot of people think one day I'd love to write a book and not everyone does, but I always thought I would. After 20 years as the surgeon in Collins, I thought, I don't want to write a eulogy textbook. Once I had my hip replacement, it's like I had half of my brain. I can't say back because I've never had it but I didn't realize how much of me was consumed with dealing with the level of pain that I had since birth. And suddenly my productivity, you know, it's like, Oh, my God. You know, I thought being, you know, being a surgeon was a walk in the park. I can be so much more now. And then it started off with this little light creative. You know, I've never had the opportunity to really be creative because I was in so much pain that restocking up. And I thought I'd like to do a book. I was in my fifties and that was brewing already and starting before, just as COVID hit, we had one of surgical shut downs. Mine's all elective surgery. So I was tools down and some surgeons weren't because but I think common surgery was all off and I, I had I thought, what can I write about? And I had spent years trying to struggle managing all of that stuff as a single mum. And my biggest problem was what's for dinner? And I'd have so much pain if I went shopping, I couldn't even unpack the sheets, the shop, the shopping, let alone cook a meal and foster and cook a meal. I didn't have enough. I had so much pain I couldn't do the dishes. So I had to be really strategic. I also had to really be careful how to manage my white cooking exercise. And by the time I got to my hip replacement, I would struggle to walk a full kilometer. I'm not sure what that is, less than a half a mile or something in a whole 24 hour period. I had to be really careful. Like if I walked in a small house from the bedroom to the kitchen, I'd left something behind. It burst into tears because I'd have to go back and backtrack. So I learned a way to shop once a fortnight, cook without a recipe, be able to just use one pan, get dinner on the table in 15 minutes and it was time critical and limited building stand so I learned how to cook. It changed my life. It reduced my stress. I know it sounds so ridiculous the second but getting dinner on the table every day is just hard work. And I was emotionally exhausted by decision fatigue and I was hangry. You know, ordering and delivery. You know, I like looking at it. And I was just at that point where I had to look at that and decide what to order. I was going to burst into tears, you know, and I think a lot of people can relate to that. What you're just trying to do too much. And I worked out this way of, you know, you just shopping once a fortnight, being really organized, meal planning and cooking without that recipe, limited washing up. I saved loads of time. I just had so much extra time by doing all of that, gone to the weekends, sitting all these recipes and trying to write things out and all this sort of stuff. I lost weight because that's what got me down to another area of chronic disease prevention because there's so much, so much hidden salt, sugar, calories in all the processed meals, the takeaway meals, the rest restaurant meals have more salt and fast food stuff like that. And I wasn't actually in a financial crisis, but it slashed my grocery bills to more than half like I'm doing some costing. Actually, all my social media looks at the moment, like last night's dinner was $3 each, you know what I mean? Stuff like that. And our food waste went down. So I used to empty the kitchen. But I mean, these are bizarre things to talk about. But, you know, these I think.


These are two really important things with the world we have. We have so what you're talking about is time management. And with so many women being single mothers, there is a significant need for time management. You're talking about financial management with the world on an upswing financially, we are moving into significant inflation in so many parts of the world. I don't know if you're seeing that there in Australia and supplies. Yeah, it's crazy. It's like we're seeing some items. 30% increase in just the last six months.




And then the health issue, because we're already dealing with mental health issues rampant due to the fear and the lockdowns and everything. And if your body is not in peak performance, you can't keep your mind. So really what you're talking about is addressing the three key things that women really struggle with. So I love it. I'm a you're talking to a crockpot in support of, you know, where we make all our meals and we freeze them and put them away. You're talking to the gal who I mean, I, I get it I get it. So keep going. I'm dying to hear more about the box and such. Right. Right now I know it's.


So I wrote my recipe cookbook and because I saw the biggest need for the people that lived on fast food, so not the people that cook cooking. She's made it worse. You know, they created kitchen fights. And so I wrote this book. No recipes, no pictures written in prose. Quick, easy read. It's meant to be written for someone who just doesn't cook to sort of say, you know, you could save your health at a fortune over your lifetime just by using basic meals. It oversimplifies cooking, basically. And I just did this, and I didn't tell anyone I was writing a book. I just wanted to be able to tell my family so I could if anyone's an author out that no one other than my son and someone I got to edit knew I'd written a book. I wanted to get out for Christmas. If anyone writes a book, it never happened. Christmas on 23rd December, it goes live on Amazon. No one in the world knows I've written a book. All I wanted to do to be able to go outside of my family at Christmas, I didn't even have a hard copy guess what? I've written a book now. Like everything I do in life, I get there and suddenly it's like, you know, you get to the top of the mountain and you just realize that it was based and that suddenly it's like, Wow, there's a whole Everest out there. You can't bring it, bring it on. And that got me addicted to books. So I wanted to write. Yes, I wrote this random cookbook because I'm not a chef. But the thing is, you don't need to be a chef. We all eat. You know, it's been sold. This idea that we need these pictures.

And I think I think you're absolutely right. I think somebody who's not a chef needed to write a good, solid cookbook because it gets overwhelming when you have to have 14 different ingredients to make one meal. And that's not how most of us live or work or eat.


Something sells for hundreds of thousands of years, you know what I mean? I invented this idea that you needed a recipe and some sort of wall of fiction to fake it.


Absolutely. Absolutely.


So then I had to experience, as I said, some gender bias is like a female role models and also really wanted people to understand that surgeons don't just operate and see patients. You know, I get to travel the world. I've done 20 years of education speaking at conferences. You know, some people go into medical research and so I decided I was going to write a book. I write a children's book when I'm a surgeon. Looking back on my life, I realized the fundamental thing is self-efficacy. And self-belief. So if young girls believe in themselves, they will overcome the barriers, whatever the barriers are that they face, self-belief is behind self esteem, it's behind self respect. It's how women see women, it's how men see women. When I was a medical student, I said I wanted to be a surgeon. I did not get the same reaction the guys got. I got what you want to be sure? Yeah. You sure you know that's not what this is? Yeah. So I write this when I'm a surgeon to inspire young girls with the dedication it's like dream big, aim high. Obviously, it's a young girl. It shows all the different things a surgeon does. And I thought, I think that that self belief is behind a lot of society's problems, even taking it through to the gender pay gap and domestic violence, you know, women's the way society sees women, the way men see women, the way women see women. And you need those stereotypes and self-belief to start to form around age three. You know, and that's why I went for the picture book. I thought, how do I get my and also the adults by the books of the adults buying books about girls who are surgeons. It changes the way they have stereotypes as well. And that was, again, I base care. It's like, oh, hang on. I know a whole series of books. Why stop at one? So then I did when I'm an entrepreneur because I had skills in entrepreneurship, having a state of mind in business and the book evolved. Both books have activity books, so people are interested. They can go to my website and read long videos, which they can watch when I'm a surgeon. These coloring pages from the activity books they can download are meal ideas and the recipe that they can download for free. But I write that I'm an entrepreneur. And then I was getting it. I kind of had to do more. So there were little Easter eggs hidden throughout the book. And one of the things she's sort of lying back on the desk reading her newspaper now, you can't see all the detail in the newspaper, but I actually wrote all the articles because I do write articles on my website so people could actually go to my website and read the actual articles on the news type. In the book, there's backstory articles, she's got a picture of a dishwasher and that which was invented in the 1800s by Josephine Cochrane in North America in the States. And I've written an article about her. So there's all these things that either an older child or an adult can read to engage in that conversation because the book is written in the first person. So it leaves it for the child's imagination to imagine that they have a certain they are the entrepreneur. But I was a bright kid, I've got a bright kid and a lot of children's books just don't cut it. And I wanted something where they could just say the sky was the limit. They could take it as far as they wanted, as far as finding out more information or engaging in conversations with the adult, whoever's with them. So I write that now then then what you might be asking, I'm releasing later this year, book three. When I'm an astronaut. Now, I have no experience in the space industry and I have no intention of going to space. I loved physics at school. It was my other passion. I love physics. I love mets. I would have done it. But in the middle of 1985 and Adelaide, the only thing I knew about and again is that dream big I'm hot. And the role models, all I knew was being a teacher in high school or being a lecturer at the university with that. So I didn't choose that. I didn't have anywhere to go. There was no space program and didn't have anywhere I could see to go with it. But I am having loads of fun because I have been spending the last six months researching astronaut training and space missions and watching everything and space launches, yes, I think.


I think, ah, I think that's actually really fortuitous timing because with all of the activity, it's almost like, it's almost like we're back in that like the fifties when all it was gearing back up and all the excitement, right? And then we really died off around the nineties. 2000. But now with the Webb telescope, I mean, I don't know if you watched that Christmas and New Year's great. It was like watching this, this or not telescope. Sorry, the satellite right that went up and, and watching that next level of being able to see beyond what we thought was there I think actually that is like incredible timing because I am starting to hear all of these with Musk sending people into outer space and all this going on, there's all of a sudden it's like it's now it's again front and center does that, you know what I'm saying? So I think it's awesome.


It's because it's exponential. So the rate of growth is much greater than we ever saw in that industry. And so you know that instead of spending and rockets up, you know, once a year or once every two years, you know, they're having for a week, you know, so it's just what they're doing now compared to six months ago. It is phenomenal. And what they're going to be doing in another six months is phenomenal. They've got the first rocket going up around the moon without people in it next year. I think only the first and the atmosphere of the moon. So Jessica Watkins just went up last week, will be the first black woman to have a stay at the international space station. It was a 50% female crew. So there's just so much happening. And so again, I've managed to put all these little details. It's very simple language because it's a picture book, but there's a lot of detail in the pictures where people I wanted to write a book that an astronaut would be proud to read that kid, obviously when it's published the proof will be in the pudding, though. But I know from watching surgical movies, you know, you just roll your eyes when you're in the industry that had the title and some accuracy. You know, God yeah, that would happen in space or no, that wouldn't. But just little things like the Internet, pictures of the International Space Station, the handles on the wall inside are blue and on the outside yellow. Now, people who are in the know would know that when they look at the book, people who are in the know can learn that when they read the articles on my website, the company, the book.

Awesome. You know what? These books would also be very fun for high school graduations. They would be the coolest book to give your child. Who has said, I want to be a doctor. I want to be a surgeon, I want to be an astronaut. They would be because I was there with a book years ago and my kids are my babies. I've got 33, 24 and, and 21. So my children are all grown. But I remember about ten years ago, one of the top books recommended for grads in North America was a picture book. So now you've done it. You're off to college, and it was this teddy bear going off to college and climbing the mountains. And I've said, you're listening going, this would actually be a really fun thing to give your high school graduate that you've heard what their goals are.


So that is really, really interesting. I mean, because of the picture book, there's plenty of room to get lots of signatures on it. So that is one advantage. And that's a really good idea when I'm an entrepreneur, it's sort of eight pages is like a different mantra. Like, you know, when I'm an entrepreneur, I'll do things differently. Now, we all know that, you know, thinking outside the square and being different is important. And the picture is actually a girl on a unicorn which is associated with doing things differently, wearing a blue striped t-shirt. Now, people who are in the business know that one of the most famous entrepreneurs and pioneer unicorn companies in the world is Stripe, and she's wearing a striped t-shirt in the blue purple color of the Stripe logo. Now, I had someone who I think their daughter was nine and older than you'd think for a picture book said she loves your book. She has memorized it like it's her mantra and recites it to herself every day because she wants to be an entrepreneur. And I was like, wow, you know that older kid taking it as a slightly different level of the picture book but you just tell about another ten years. I love it.


We have coloring books for adults. Right. And sometimes simplifying things down to simple mantras is where we need to go. Don't overthink it. Just move forward. And I can actually see this as like a card almost right with the gift. And like, I see you, I hear you, I check that out because I did buy a picture book for my son when he graduated high school.


I love it.


Although I love it. So where do we go from now? So we have the you're releasing you'll have the astronaut book. What's the next one after that?


The next one.


Which book? Which book is next?


There'll be well when I'm president.


Oh, that will be good. That will be good. That will also be very controversial. But that will be very good. Yeah.


So it gives me the opportunity to really study deep into topics even though what I come out with at the end is a very simple book. Oh yes. I love learning and the opportunities that it creates.


Be interesting to see your take from being from a Commonwealth country. The, the take on the presidential space. Yes, exactly. That's really, really and we'll have to catch up on that one because I being I'm American from Wichita, Kansas, that's center center flyover state but that the the the belt buckle of the Bible belt and I have lived 27 years in Canada and I received the Diamond Jubilee Award the provincial Centennial Awards. I've been a very active member within our local governments and communities in Canada. And it will be really fascinating to actually have a conversation after you do that. But I would love for you to come back after you do that book end and we pick and pull apart and it won't be right or left. It's going to be what we learned. I would love that. So tell us Samantha, where can people find you? And, you know, what are the different things that we do before we do that? What is the mantra or quote that is your guiding light is what you say to yourself.


Get me to this point. It's always been a big deal. If you make it a big deal.


And that is so true.


I've had a lot of setbacks. And I'm sure, you know, I'm not alone and you just gotta keep fighting on and deal with it, you know, because one of my other ones is just when you think things couldn't be any worse, couldn't get any worse, they do.


And that absolutely I've been there. I get it. You know, and sometimes I think we bring it on ourselves when we focus on how rough it feels, it gets worse. Instead of looking at the side that, you know what, it could be worse. We should be grateful for how good it is.


Yeah. So that sort of gets me through. I'm entering a new phase of life, I suppose. I've got so many different things just to have less pain than I've ever had before. Like I didn't know any difference. So it's not, it's not something I could relate to. I'm now trying to find those big dreams that are big, audacious dreams. And I say, that sounds really weird. I've got a successful business. I'm a surgeon. I've done five books. You know it. I'm working on my sixth. So, you know, how could I have I'm just a sedentary more public speaking. And in actual fact, that's probably part of where my big dream is. I had a physical condition I couldn't do anything about. And that has motivated me to look after the things I could because, you know, you kind of go, my mindset is, oh my God, if I can reduce my cardiac risk factors, why wouldn't I? Because I was born with something I couldn't influence. So that's helped. And then as a surgeon, I see the end result of the quality of life impact of the quality of life, the decade that takes to materialize with all the problems, diabetes, etcetera. You know, the World Health Organization said 80% of these chronic diseases are preventable with heart disease and 40% with cancer. So I really want people to know that everyone knows what they're meant to do, but they don't do it. You know, they're too busy. And so that next sort of area that I'm talking about is, is your success killing you? You know, you don't actually take time to look after your health. I think it's helped raise it. That priority so I'm hoping that single handedly I can change the health of the nation. And maybe once I've done Australia, I can hit over your way so that satisfies my next big, audacious dream.


Well, Dr. Samantha, you would be more than welcome to come over. And, you know, you don't have to do it single handedly. You've got all sorts of women that are right behind you and we're all supporting you because your message needs to be heard. And I am so grateful for your time. Today, and I thank you for getting up so early to spend this time with me. And I think everybody who takes time to listen to this because I understand I truly do value your most valuable nonrenewable resource is your time and you've chosen to share it with us. So I thank you again. I'm Kim Hayden and we are at Kim Talks and you can find us here iTunes, every platform. Find me, buy me like subscribe, share and comment and be sure to jump over and visit with Samantha, see what she's got going on at Samantha dot com because she's a rock star again. Thank you, Dr. Samantha.


Thank you, Kim.

Dr Samantha Pillay is a surgeon, entrepreneur, two-time Amazon No1 best selling author, educator, & speaker. She was a finalist nominee for SA Australian of the Year 2022. Having seen patients faced with the consequences when prevention is all too late, Dr Pillay motivates audiences to see why health prevention cannot be put off until tomorrow.

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