Dr. Balvant Arora, MBA ’13 could have been content with his achievements.
He’d succeeded professionally in his native India and in the United States, participated in groundbreaking surgery, and taught medical school. More recently he had moved to Fredericksburg to work for Mary Washington Healthcare as a plastic, reconstructive, and cosmetic surgeon, a career he chose for its balance of science and art.
But as the Affordable Care Act brought the business aspects of the health industry into political and social focus, Arora identified a gap in his own knowledge – and an opportunity to contribute constructively. He approached the leadership at Mary Washington Healthcare about the possibility of getting an MBA with a concentration in health care and was granted permission and financial support.
In 2010, at age 50, he went back to the classroom as a student in the University of Mary Washington’s College of Business. And in May, after 3½ years of a rigorous schedule and challenging coursework, he proudly marched in cap and gown to receive a master of business administration degree.
His wife and daughters attended the commencement. And there in spirit were his parents and siblings back in India, the people who had instilled in him an intense commitment to education and the power of persistence.
In Anand, India, in the western state of Gujarat, Arora’s father sold clothes for a living. The family wasn’t wealthy, but the elder Arora made sure all five children had educational opportunities.
The message was clear: Education shaped not only what someone would achieve in life, but “who you are as a person,” Arora recalled. “That resonated with me so much that I wanted to make sure I continued my education no matter what.”
A sister became a teacher, an elder brother an engineer who worked overseas and sent money home to his family. “My brother taught me what sacrifice means,” Arora said.
Arora graduated first in his high school class and earned government-sponsored merit scholarships to college and then medical school. He became a plastic surgeon and opened a private 10-bed hospital in India. But another dream pulled at him.
He wanted to experience life abroad, and in 1992 he got the chance to come to the United States.
The transition wasn’t easy. Arora worked through the long process of having his medical credentials approved by the Educational Commission for Foreign Medical Graduates. Then he embarked on several more years of research and education at Stony Brook University Medical Center in New York and at Oregon Health and Science University in Portland.
After a fellowship in cosmetic surgery at Lenox Hill Hospital in Manhattan, he went back to Stony Brook as an assistant professor in the division of plastic surgery.
It was with Stony Brook University in 2005 that he participated in one of the most remarkable surgeries of his career. A factory worker had been in an accident that severed both hands at the wrists. Arora joined one of the two surgical teams assigned to reattach the man’s hands, and the successful double-hand surgery made headlines nationwide. But New York’s cold winters got to Arora. In 2008, he and wife Kavita Arora, and daughters Priyanka and Ushna, moved to Stafford County. Here, in addition to practicing reconstructive and cosmetic surgery at Mary Washington Hospital, Arora is chief of surgery at Stafford Hospital.
He was excited and a little nervous when he began his studies at UMW. Despite all his education and experience, he learned that there would be no shortcuts toward that MBA.
“I had to do it all from scratch, from the foundation courses onward,” he recalled with a smile. “I didn’t get out of anything.”
But he found his College of Business professors knowledgeable and engaging, the courses challenging. A marketing class with Associate Professor Lou Martinette and a course in visionary leadership taught by Senior Lecturer George R. Greene especially stood out.
Often, Arora was the oldest student in class, which he thought was great. “I really enjoyed being in the company of students who were much younger,” he said. Many had grown up doing online research, and he learned from their comfort and ease with technology.
“They were very patient and very kind,” he said. “I’m always eager to learn from anyone who knows more than me, at any age. Anyone who knows more than me is my teacher.”
That attitude made Arora especially valuable in class, said Martinette, the marketing professor. Arora showed genuine interest in other students’ perspectives, and he listened more than he spoke.
“He was always respectful of other people’s positions and curious to know how they arrived at their conclusions,” Martinette said. “When he had something to say or a question to ask, it added value to the discussion.”
Martinette was not surprised that Arora won the 2013 Outstanding Master of Business Administration Student Award. “As a student, he was curious, he was professional, he was intelligent, and he was humble,” Martinette said.
The MBA, Arora said, gave him the tools to stay ahead of change, and to contribute constructively. He’s grateful to Mary Washington Healthcare for giving him the opportunity.
And at 54, he is still looking for new things to learn and new ways to make a difference.
“I want to continue to deliver and be productive for a very, very long time,” Arora said. “There are so many things I want to do still.”