By Kieran Andrew Khan
Dr Asante VanWest-Charles-Le Blanc didn’t think she was defying the conventions of the day when she first opened her medical practice in 2009, offering alternative/complimentary medicine alongside the conventional and traditional approaches – it was simply what she was taught during her training in Cuba.
That practice, however, alongside her steadfast commitment to her patients’ well-being, recently earned her the award of Top Performing Candidate in the highly-competitive Scotiabank Vision Achiever Programme.
“I am a Cuban-born Guyanese and I studied medicine in Cuba, on scholarship, at the Superior Institute of Medical Sciences of Havana in the Manuel Fajardo Faculty before I migrated to Trinidad following my husband, who was posted to Trinidad with his job,” Dr Van-Charles Le Blanc explained.
“I started the Victoria Clinic in 2009 as way of treating the whole patient given the mind-body-soul connection. Medical herbs and alternative treatments such as acupuncture were part of our curriculum; owing to the embargo, they investigated and incorporated all the different branches in medicine. For` Cubans, primary healthcare is a priority so while we didn’t cover it in-depth, it was enough to pique my interest to pursue further study.”
Dr Van-Charles Le Blanc would go on to become a certified medical herbologist as well – pursuing what is known as planetary herbology. “I honestly didn’t know I was doing something that wasn’t being done at the time here in Trinidad but certainly learnt that over the past nine years.”
The Victoria Clinic gained recognition for its mixed approach to healthcare and its proactive aspects in managing health. “The best way to manage your health is to stay healthy and that requires you to come in before you are ill and see how best we can balance all the aspects that are important in your body. Balance is key.
“We can do one of three approaches: the medical approach, the traditional/Chinese medicine approach or both. So you can come in and we will do the standard blood tests and diagnostics but we can take that a step further depending on the comfort level of the patient and do a tongue and pulse diagnosis as well and work up all to find you a path back to a healthy mind, body and soul or to a more balanced lifestyle,” she advised.
"In conventional or traditional medicine, we sometimes separate the body according to specialities, use quick fixes and sometimes, we forget the connection of body, mind and spirit. In complimentary/integrative medicine (which is part of all our histories and heritage) we see it as a system; if you have a kidney issue, you may also have a heart issue for example, and they can’t be outright separated in treatment. But yes, we encourage lifestyles with healthy diets and habits alongside practices in yoga, or tai chi too, to see that you stay healthy. The key in all of this is balance,” she passionately recommended.
The passion for her practice aside, it was a few years into her work that her husband, a businessman, began cajoling her to look at her business more as a business as much as it was a practice, tending to the well-being of her clients.
“My focus has always been patient care – that’s the priority. But my husband would always tell me that I need to actually run a business as much as I am running the practice. So, after seeing the winners for the 2017 Scotiabank Vision Achievers programme in the newspaper and seeing the application cycle for 2018, I started the process,” she recalled.
Though it required her to turn inward and analyse her business and herself, which took her outside of her comfort-zone somewhat, she didn’t hold back when explaining the value, she derived from the programme. “It was a wild-ride – very motivating and inspiring and ultimately a fantastic programme for the bank to create and conduct. I met a number of entrepreneurs from all walks of life; it is truly amazing how entrepreneurial Trinbagonians are. And it allowed me to learn a new way of managing my business – in all the areas that you may not want to focus as a businessperson, but you have to: from cash-flow to team-building, managing meetings, staff and strategies for growth.”
Through five all-day classes and dozens of assignments and tasks, the candidates worked with Indira Couch of Action Coach TT and with their peers in the programme to move past just doing their passions to make a living but also to do it in a meaningful way that could help their businesses grow and have a life of their own as well.
She pointed out many of the learning outcomes from her time with the initiative: “The Scotiabank Vision Achievers programme shows you that small business owners are important to the economic health of a country and teaches you to not be afraid to look at the numbers that matter in your business like your overdraft and where money is going and how to project what you can earn. More than just the financial aspect too, is being able to look at the feedback, or feed-forward you get from clients to see what they need and what is missing. Every person should take the time to take stock of their business in this way, but we seldom do. If you can apply to the programme in the future, do so – it’s amazing. If you can’t – then take the time to still think about your business in this way.”
She gave a lot of advice, particularly for young female entrepreneurs based on her experience, key among which was this gem: “Divorce your husband – financially and in business that is,” she added with a laugh. “You need to gain recognition on your own as a businesswoman with regards to your relationship with your bank in particular. This is key. Keep going and keep trying – no matter how difficult it is. I persevered in my dream to study medicine, starting out in Guyana on a loan and then being the recipient of a scholarship in Cuba. There were, are and will be, for sure, days where I cry, yes; when I wonder where my business is going. I am human, after all. But all of these obstacles in life are just challenges that will make you stronger if you use them. You must have support and you must have the love of those around you too. I take my knocks like anyone else, but you will succeed if you use your support network and above all, don’t give up.”
As the mother of five, she knows the value of a support system all too well. Her three eldest children are her husband’s sons and her two daughters followed on their marriage. But she never refers to any of her children as step-children. “My grandmother always told me that families don’t have steps; I raised two of my husband’s three sons from young and then had my own two daughters. And they are all my children.”
In closing, she also reminds everyone that health management is key to a happy life. “Eat at home where you can. Know where your food is coming from and get to know your farmers and how they produce your food. Yes, you can have the frozen foods, the fried chicken or chocolate cake now and then – but these are treats not daily things to consume. If you want the best advice for managing diseases, it’s this: avoid them in the first place with a healthy lifestyle. Everyone’s journey is important, so take care of yourself and you will be better able to also take care of your family and your business.