K.P. Poulose feels proud as a student of Government Medical College

It means a lot to me that I’ve attended three convocations of the University of Kerala – the first one after my degree, then after completing my MBBS and later my MD. My excitement might sound silly for many people of the present generation because these days there aren’t any convocation ceremonies as such. You get the certificate by post.

But when I was a student, we even had a rehearsal on the eve of the event. I clearly remember doing that rehearsal after I completed my graduation in Chemistry from Maharaja’s College, Ernakulam, in 1954. The college was then affiliated to the then University of Travancore. Ramaswamy Muthaliar was the Vice-Chancellor then.

After graduation, I came to Thiruvananthapuram from Udayamperoor, my home town in Ernakulam district, to join Government Medical College. The inspiration to become a doctor was my father’s brother, K.P. Chacko, who had a Licentiate of Medical Practice degree.

Only marks mattered

The admission to medical college was based on our marks in the science stream and English. There was no grace mark or reservation. We were the fourth batch of the college and the number of seats had gone up to 80 from 60. Then we had a four-and-a-half year course, plus one-year internship and one-year house surgency. There was no stipend during internship, but we got Rs. 75 while doing our house surgency.

I still hold my teachers in great respect. To be frank, we all were so scared of them. I want to make special mention of my teachers T.V. Mathew, late C. Vareeth, T. K. Raman, A. Achuthan Pillai, K. Narayana Pai, M. Thangavelu and P. G. Geevarghese.

They insisted on discipline and never compromised when it came to our performance. If we scored 50 per cent marks in the internal examination, we had to make up for the rest in the University examination. But if we scored less than 50 per cent, we weren’t allowed to appear for the University examination. We never knew who was the external examiner. Examiners were very strict and no way could we influence them. There was no revaluation too. Out of 80, only 28 of us completed the course!

See where things stand now. Today, it is the students who decide who should be the examiner. If a student fails, he or she questions the teachers and even use political pressure to get things done. Otherwise the examiner is removed from the post, as it happened in my case when I was working in Government Medical College, Kottayam.

Though I went to Delhi and joined Maulana Azad Medical College for MD, I left the course in between. The teachers were very strict, plus I didn’t know Hindi. After returning to Kerala, I joined as a tutor in medicine at the Medical College in 1961 and joined for MD the next year.

A turning point of my career was my stint at Johns Hopkins University in the United States (U.S.). I was deputed by the government to study nuclear medicine there. I chose the subject because I wanted to study abroad. It was a clerk in my office, the late Subramania Iyer, who told me that I would get government funds to study abroad if I took the subject. What came handy was a six-week course on radio isotopes I attended in Mumbai.The training was actually an excuse to see Mumbai!

I was in the US from 1967-70. Later, from 1973 to 1976, I worked as Associate Professor and vice-chairman, Department of Nuclear Medicine, Washington Hospital Centre, George Washington University.

I had already started a thyroid unit at the medical college in 1965. But following my stint in the U.S., I could make it into a full-fledged nuclear medicine division under the Department of Medicine. Though we had submitted a proposal to the government to expand the unit, by then Regional Cancer Centre (RCC) had got the sanction to develop their nuclear medicine unit. Higher-ups suggested that there was no need for same units in two institutions and so asked me to join RCC. But I didn’t want to do that and so I opted to go to Government Medical College, Kottayam, in 1979 and from there I retired as professor and head, Department of Medicine, in 1990.

I am quite disappointed that we haven’t yet tapped the benefits of nuclear medicine, especially in ailments related to kidney, heart and bones. It is being used on a small scale in a few hospitals. However, I am happy that I could start radio-iodine treatment for thyroid cancer and thyrotoxicosis and initiate thyroidology as a speciality in the state after my training in the US.

(As told to ATHIRA M.)

(A column to commemorate the platinum jubilee of the University of Kerala. Eminent teachers and people from different walks of life talk about their student days in various colleges under the University.)

Fact file

K. P. Poulose is now principal consultant in medicine and endocrinology at SUT Hospital, Pattom, and Emeritus Professor, SUT Academy of Medical Sciences. He has contributed to various medical text books, has written columns in dailies and handled a column on the human body in a Malayalam magazine for children.