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Meet two Indian-origin women who have gone a long way in the health sector in WA

The campaign theme for this year’s International Women’s Day was #PledgeForParity. However, according to a World Economic Forum prediction in 2015, the gender gap will not close entirely until the year 2133!
So, it is refreshing and inspirational to acknowledge women of Indian origin who have broken through multiple glass ceilings of gender and ethnicity to reach the zenith of success in the WA government health sector.
Both are trailblazers in their own right, showing us what’s possible and serving as inspirational role models for women who want to make their mark in the public service sector. They have taken risks, transformed challenges into success and in the process, shattered many stereotypes along the way.
Maha Rajagopal
Queensland Fiji Disaster Relief.Indian Link
Maha Rajagopal is the Executive Director of Nursing at the Royal Perth Hospital. Her journey to this highly contested, high profile position started three decades ago when she migrated to Perth in 1988 with her family. Having completed a diploma in nursing from Glasgow, Scotland, she was offered a job at the Royal Perth Hospital as a registered nurse. She later went on to complete a Bachelor’s in Nursing in 1994 and then an MBA in 1999. Rising through the ranks, she was appointed as Director of Nursing, RPH in 2009 and awarded Adjunct Associate Professor from Curtin University.
The opening of the new Fiona Stanley hospital brought major changes in the health sector.
“Health went through a major reform and reconfiguration of services across hospitals with the opening of Fiona Stanley Hospital,” Maha tells Indian Link. “I was asked in late 2012 to be Commissioning Lead for Royal Perth Hospital in the transitioning of services and staff to Fiona Stanley Hospital in 2014 and 2015.”
The year 2016 sees Maha taking up even more significant roles in the health sector as she will be Executive Director of Nursing at Royal Perth Hospital and the Bentley Health Group Hospitals as well as Area Executive Director of Nursing for the East Metropolitan health region. She will hold specific portfolios in nursing education, training, credentialing, and research, and will be clinical advisor to the Chief Executive and Executive Directors on strategic matters related to patient care, clinical priorities, workforce models and mental health.
The road to the top is paved with challenges. Maha acknowledges her struggle to be given an equal opportunity to prove herself, and to get the recognition she deserved for her ability, experience and intelligence. How did she transform these challenges into success?
“By having a clear vision for the future, being adaptable to change and taking tough decisions.”
To young women starting their careers, Maha advises, “Aim high, have confidence in yourself, and never be afraid of taking risks.”
Soniya Nanda-Paul
Women In Health.Indian Link
Another inspirational success story in the public health sector is that of Soniya Nanda-Paul, Chief Dental Officer in the Department of Health in WA. The Chief Dental Officer is the government’s most senior advisor for matters related to oral health and dentistry. An honours graduate of UWA dentistry achieving no less than 11 awards for excellence, Sonia started her career in community dental services and quickly progressed to area management roles. Sonia also achieved an Advanced Master of Business Administration from UWA.
With a strong grasp of complex policy detail and budgets, Sonia works to identify better ways to improve oral health service delivery to the Western Australian community, in particular at-risk community groups such as low income, complex needs patients (e.g. aged care), those from rural and remote populations, and Aboriginal groups.
What would she say are the factors behind her success in public service?
“A passion for equity in health,” she says with conviction. “As well, a strong work ethic. Plus, I’ve had some incredible mentors within WA Health, and of course the unwavering support of my family and friends is also a key factor.”
Soniya points out, “Like so many women, balancing family and work is the greatest challenge, and we don’t always win. In the professional world, I’ve had to overcome negative stereotypes and challenge assumptions that I am too young and inexperienced to hold senior positions.”
She believes that “building resilience” to face disappointments has been a challenge and possibly a key factor for her success. So what would her advice be then for youngsters, especially women, embarking on a career in public service?
“Be courageous; it’s ok to make mistakes. See them as opportunities to learn and do things differently. I can’t stress enough the importance of personal integrity, of being true to yourself. While knowing the business and processes is important, building relationships with those around you is very valuable.”

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