Madras Medical College, a cradle of medical education in India

The college had its origin in a private medical hall run by D. Mortimer, superintendent of the Government General Hospital. It was then regularised as Madras Medical School and attached to the general hospital, and officially became MMC in 1850

October 07, 2022 12:52 am | Updated 12:52 am IST

The MMC has 1,250 undergraduate students. It offers 26 broad specialty courses, 22 super-specialty courses, 9 B.Sc courses, 17 paramedical courses and two master programmes. 

The MMC has 1,250 undergraduate students. It offers 26 broad specialty courses, 22 super-specialty courses, 9 B.Sc courses, 17 paramedical courses and two master programmes.  | Photo Credit: B. JOTHI RAMALINGAM

It opened up new horizons for young medico Saranya S, who hailed from Keelaperambalur village in Perambalur district, while it led senior diabetologist V. Seshiah to a path-breaking work in gestational diabetes. Shakthi Meenal’s love for medicine and history found newer beginnings here, while it gave a platform for DMK MLA N. Ezhilan to improve his scientific temper and helped him develop leadership skills.

Madras Medical College (MMC), established in 1835, is more than a teaching institution for thousands of medical professionals. In Tamil Nadu, it is almost every medical aspirant’s dream to study at MMC.

Humble origin

The institution had its origin in a private medical hall run by D. Mortimer, superintendent of the Government General Hospital. It was then regularised as the Madras Medical School and attached to the general hospital, and officially became MMC in 1850.

Tamil Nadu Dr. MGR Medical University vice-chancellor Sudha Seshayyan, who did her MBBS and post-graduate studies at MMC, rightly observes, “The history of modern medical education in the whole of Asia cannot be separated from the history of MMC.”

It was from here that social reformer Muthulakshmi Reddy, the first Indian woman to obtain a university medical degree, graduated. “In fact, it was then surgeon-general Edward Green Balfour who wrote in favour of women getting admitted to MMC. Calcutta Medical College and MMC were started a few days apart. When Calcutta presidency recommended that women join medical college, the Calcutta Medical College refused, leading to women making their way to Madras. Women students started to be admitted to MMC in 1875,” Dr. Seshayyan recalled.

In fact, according to an article in The Hindu on August 5, 1935, “Dr. Muthulakshmi Reddy, pointed out at the meeting, held on Friday, to concert measures for the centenary celebrations, that the Madras Medical College was the first institution in India to open its portals to lady students. That was a great step — even a revolutionary step — in those days.”

The Red Fort

MMC’s “Red Fort”, the eastern block constructed in 1897, housed the Department of Anatomy for several decades. It remains a key identity of the institution.

The college moved to its present campus — the erstwhile Chennai Central prison premises — in 2013. Today, the institute is the learning ground for 1,250 undergraduate students. It offers post-graduate courses — 26 broad specialty courses (MD/MS), the newest addition being emergency medicine, and 22 super-specialty courses (DM/M.Ch), with the latest ones being paediatric neurology, critical care and endocrinology. The institute also offers nine B.Sc courses, 17 paramedical courses and two master programmes, according to authorities.

Long association

From stepping into the institution in 1957 to graduating in 1962, returning to it as assistant professor in 1976 and retiring in 1991, Dr. Seshiah had a long association with MMC. “I consider myself lucky to have studied at MMC. It is one of the leading colleges in the world. I ultimately returned to the institute as assistant professor. Those days, there was no Department of Diabetology anywhere in the country, and I asked the government to start one such department. The Department of Diabetology came into existence at MMC in 1978,” the 84-year-old veteran recounted.

For Dr. Seshayyan, MMC is like a second home. Entering the institute for her under-graduation in 1977, she had the early part of her career at MMC. She returned and spent seven to eight years, including as Director of Anatomy, since 2011, before becoming the Vice-Chancellor.

Doctor-politician Ezhilan did his under-graduation and post-graduation (MD-General Medicine) at MMC. “For any medical aspirant in Tamil Nadu, getting admission at MMC is a dream. I entered the college in 1997. The anatomy hall itself has a lot of historical significance and the gallery had a wonderful museum,” he said.

‘Pluralistic culture’

For him, the institution reflected a pluralistic culture. “The class had representation from all communities and from all institutions — both government and private schools — across the State because of social justice. It was a representation of Tamil Nadu,” he said. The college has some of the best teachers.

It is almost a life-changing experience for Saranya, now a pre-final year student. “I studied in a government school till Class X. Coming to Chennai and studying at MMC has opened up a world of opportunities for me. I saw students striking a balance between studies and extra-curricular activities... That got me involved as well. The experience and exposure I have now cannot be matched,” said Ms. Saranya, who is a committee member of MMC’s Thamizh Mandram.

Studying at MMC was nothing short of excitement for Shakthi Meenal, also in the pre-final year. “It is a great experience...The patient caseload is so high here that we get to see some of the rare cases that we read in textbooks,” she pointed out.

High patient load 

Explaining why MMC remains the first choice for medical aspirants, dean E. Theranirajan said, “The reason is that the institute has various specialties; a high patient load, ranging from 15,000 to 17,000 outpatients, and 3,000 in-patients; home to senior-most faculty; and abundance of clinical materials that will provide a great learning experience for students.”

MMC is ranked 12th among medical colleges in the country in the Government of India’s National Institutional Ranking Framework for 2022. The aim is to emerge among the top three. “For this, we have to focus on research and Ph.D, in addition to academics,” he said.

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