At its launch, Cochin Medical College raised a lot of expectations. Twelve years on, the college continues to stagger under the weight of expectations

At its launch more than a decade ago, Cochin Medical College raised a lot of expectations, mainly on two counts. First, it was an answer to the demand for a medical college in Kerala’s industrial capital. Then it opened up the tantalizing prospects for the cooperative movement bringing to heel a money-driven medical education market.

Twelve years on, however, the former Cooperative Medical College, continues to stagger under the weight of expectations. To date, the college does not offer a post-graduate course. And, it is not for want of academic excellence. The initial promise of growth and distinction was marked by a pass percentage of 95. Even with substantial improvement in infrastructure in recent times, the medical college appears to have lost steam. The pass percentage has dipped to between 80 and 85 though its performance compares well with government medical colleges in Kerala.

The college has had more than its share of teething troubles. At its launch in 2000, lectures were held in makeshift classrooms at the Jawaharlal Nehru International Stadium, Kaloor, and the Indira Gandhi Cooperative Hospital, Kadavanthara.

“We were perhaps the only medical students who got a two-day holiday when India and Pakistan played a cricket march here in 2004 because our classrooms were occupied”, recalls Brijesh Ray, an alumnus and now a radiologist in Thiruvananthapuram.

Students in the first two batches said they were mostly embarrassed for being part of an institution that did not have a building of its own.

The Cooperative Academy of Professional Education (CAPE) has not found a principal to head the institution for a significant period of time, the founder principal Dr. P. G. R. Pillai being an exception to his successors, who have all served the institution only briefly.

Poor salary structure

The administration struggles to keep good hands at the college because of the poor salary structure. Medical director Raju Antony says the staff and teachers do not enjoy benefits offered to personnel in government medical colleges. Besides, salaries do not compare well with the private sector, he says.

The academics, however, present a totally different picture. Students are all praise for the academic culture in the college. “The teachers took special care of us”, says paediatrician Anu Jose, who was part of the first MBBS batch in 2000. Second year student Parvathi N. while praising the college and teachers, admits that there is a shortage of faculty members.

Adarsh D. from the first batch and now a gynaecologist in Alappuzha recalls how his teachers kept up the students' spirits through years of uncertainties, fears and rumours about the lack of recognition for the college.

It was unheard of at that time, he said, for undergraduate medical students to organise strikes, but they were forced to do so on several occasions because they lacked clarity on the future of their education and were not sure whether the courses would be recognised by the Union health ministry.

In fact, the Medical Council of India had cut admissions to the second year to 50 from the original 100 because of the lack of facilities.

The struggle to get the college infrastructure up was only the beginning of another wave of great efforts that went into creating a proper campus atmosphere. Even with basic facilities in place on the sprawling 60-acre campus, much more needs to be done.

Remote location

What the college immediately needs is bus connections to all parts of the city and its surrounding areas as it continues to sit in an area not frequently served by buses.

Psychiatrist T. S. Jaisoorya, who has been with the college for over five years, feels that the institution needs to be raised as a benchmark for other hospitals for advanced medical treatment at reasonable costs. For this government investment needs to come in. Sunny P. Orathel, president of the CMC Teachers’ Association, feels that CAPE needs to do more to boost the image of the college. The only development in the college at present is the construction of buildings, he said. There should be an architectural plan of ten years for growth. The college has 7 lakh square feet of built-up area in 21 buildings. There should be overall development of the landscape too, he says.

There have been big gains on the treatment front despite the lack of bus connectivity and the relative remoteness of the campus.

Public support

The number of out patients that visited the 500-bed hospital during last week’s two-day general strike was 300. There were also over 250 in-patients. This is a measure of the confidence people have reposed in the institution.

The hospital gets a large number of referral cases from various private hospitals and this should be taken as recognition for the medical college offering advanced treatment at affordable costs, says Dr. Orathel, who feels that CAPE management does not quite understand the need of a medical college since most on the board have non-medical background.

These are positive signs for an institution that has the potential to grow into an example of quality healthcare lined to affordability.

Perched on a hilltop from where its top floors offer a panoramic view of Kochi and its surroundings, the Cochin Medical College is waiting to break into the big league of medical care givers.

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