Express yourself without fear: Dr. V. Shanta

Ramon Magsaysay Award winner and Padma Vibhushan Dr. V. Shanta, co-founder/chairperson of Chennai’s state-of-the-art Cancer Institute, joined the pantheon of role-models for physicians long ago. Her unfaltering service to all leaves you to wonder: how does she sustain the determination to treat everyone who comes to her hospital? The answer lies in what she absorbed in her formative years: “From my teachers and family I learnt the principle ‘to give and not take.’ Everything for every patient; we do not want to deprive anyone of treatment for lack of financial resources, and there is a distinct sense of satisfaction in working for others.”

Medical education

I was not very sociable in school and college. My interest in co-curricular activities like sports was minimal. I had no hobbies to speak of. I just read. In addition to academic studies, I read classic English literature — Shakespeare, Dickens, Scott, Bernard Shaw. I rarely attended college functions.

I did not have close friends and hardly kept in touch with the few friends I had.

I studied in Madras Medical College, probably the best for medicine in India during those years (1940-50). Medical education was free for girls. There were only 10 women in a class of over 100. We were fortunate to have had great teachers who, by their codes of discipline, ethics, integrity and knowledge, acted as role models and shaped my thoughts, words and deeds.

Favourite mentors

Prof. Veeraraghavan, Physics, and Prof. Sivasubrahmanya Mudaliar, Anatomy, were both strict disciplinarians. When they entered the classroom, there was pin-drop silence. Their impact on me was significant. Also, Dr. Ananthanarayana Iyer for his scintillating lectures in embryology — so story-like that you could remember the material without memorising. Dr. U. Mohan Rao for his excellent “bedside” teaching, and more for punctuality — to the second. Dr. Venugopal, for clinical classes full of quotations and references from classical literature — mainly Shakespeare. Dr. Rathnaswamy, physician par-excellence who taught us the basics of a doctor-patient relationship — the humane approach, compassion and empathy. Dr. Krishna Menon, for his comprehensive lectures. Dr. P.T. Madhaviamma, highly reputed for her scrupulous attention to detail in patientcare. Dr. Krishnamurthi, chief of the newly-organised Cancer Unit (when I was a house surgeon posted to the Cancer Ward in 1950), an idealist and visionary beyond description. Dr. K.S. Sanjivi, father of community medicine, who introduced the concept of social justice in healthcare.

Dr. R.V. Rajam, who taught us venereology, saw me reading The Doctor’s Dilemma by George Bernard Shaw in my first year and remarked that it was too early for me to be reading it. I asked him why, and he said, “Knowledge comes, wisdom lingers.” I did not understand it then, but today I do!”

A message

The vision of a medical student/trained physician must be wide, and not just confined to academics. Medical students must be able to appreciate that there is much beyond “narrow domestic walls.” They must participate in areas where there is social injustice in healthcare; express their opinion without fear, where corruption exists and where change is needed.

All students can get inspiration from great leaders like Mahatma Gandhi, Swami Vivekananda, William Osler, Madam Curie, Rockefeller, Robert Kennedy, Rabindranath Tagore, and Dr. Abdul Kalam.

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Printable version | Sep 22, 2021 2:43:39 AM |

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