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Interview: Need to increase PG medical seats, number of teaching hospitals — Dr T V Devarajan

Dr T V Devarajan is an eminent doctor and medical teacher who has dedicated his life to teaching and practising medicine. He is 71 years old and is still enthusiastic spreading his positive energy to his fellow doctors and colleagues. He served at Madras Medical College for 29 years without drawing any salary.

Dr T V Devarajan
Dr T V Devarajan

After his retirement, Dr Devarajan is now teaching medicine at Aarupadai Veedu Medical College and Hospital (AVMC), Kirumampakkam, Puducherry as a professor. He is also a senior consultant physician at Apollo Hospitals, Chennai where he started India’s first Advanced Fever Clinic in 2013 and has been heading this new department since its inception.

Dr Devarajan received Dr B C Roy National Award in 2003 and the country’s fourth highest civilian award Padma Shri in 2013.

He was born in Thrissur, Kerala. He graduated in Medicine and went on to earn the degrees of MD and DSc in General Medicine. He was also awarded the Fellowship of the Royal College of Physicians of Glasgow in 2007.

He is the author of four books, ‘Clinical Medicine Made Easy’, ‘Medicine in Nutshell’, ‘Diagnosis & Treatment of Poisoning and Drug Overdose Made Easy’, and ‘Medical Advice for Healthy Life’.

In an exclusive interview with India Medical Times, Dr T V Devarajan talks about his illustrious journey as a doctor and medical teacher.

Dr T V Devarajan receiving Padma Shri from President Pranab Mukherjee.
Dr T V Devarajan receiving Padma Shri from President Pranab Mukherjee.

You were born in Thrissur, Kerala in 1944 and you are now in Chennai as a successful doctor and professor saving and inspiring lives. Tell us about your journey through these years.

I was born to Shri T K Viswanathan and Shrimathi Renganayaki on 31st May 1944 in Trichur, Palaghat, Kerala; studied up to 5th Standard. Both my elder brothers got a job in Chennai so the family moved to Chennai. After finishing SSLC (Secondary School Leaving Certificate), PUC (pre-university course) and BSc in Chennai, I joined Stanley Medical College (SMC), Chennai for MBBS and MD and passed MD in 1974. I wrote an American exam and got a job in USA, but my mentor and teacher Dr K V Thiruvengadam asked me to stay back and work under him. As I was interested in teaching I took up an honorary teacher’s post in Madras Medical College and Government General Hospital looking after poor patients and teaching undergraduate and postgraduate students for 29 years without salary.

What was the reason behind you taking such a rare decision? And how did you sustain yourself and your family financially for such a long period without drawing a salary?

All salaried doctors were prone for transfer across the state once in three years. If you opted not to take the salary and work honorary you would not be transferred. I was looking after ward patients, nurses sick room and teaching undergraduates and postgraduates from 1975 to 2003 without salary for the pleasure of teaching students and work under my role model Professor K V Thiruvengadam. I did private practice in the evening and became consultant to MFL and MRF to sustain myself. My wife was in government service, salaried. So, there was no problem financially and I could have my desire of teaching students for many years in the same medical college and hospital. Now, they have abolished the honorary system. This only gave me Dr B C Roy National Award as an eminent medical teacher.

I retired from Madras Medical College in 2003 and became emeritus professor of medicine at AVMC, Pondicherry and I am still continuing. I also joined Apollo Hospitals in 1986 as a consultant physician and am still continuing. At Apollo, I started Advanced Fever Clinic catering to patients with fever for months or years. This is first of its kind in Asia.

Dr T V Devarajan receiving Dr B C Roy National Award from President APJ Abdul Kalam.
Dr T V Devarajan receiving Dr B C Roy National Award from President APJ Abdul Kalam.

You were honoured with Dr B C Roy National Award recognizing you as an eminent medical teacher and the fourth highest civilian award, the Padma Shri. Which role do you think gives you a greater recognition — being an eminent teacher or a great civilian? Also, please tell us how you felt when you received these awards.

Working as a teacher and physician in Madras Medical College and Government General Hospital without salary earned me a good name as a ‘Teacher’. Students liked my lecturers and bedside clinics and used to send me appreciation cards. I was given Dr B C Roy National Award for medical teaching, which was appreciated by the student community. I was given the ‘Padma Shri’ for honorary work done in Madras Medical College and Government General Hospital, organising medical camps for flood hit victims, and for working in a charitable dispensary for nine years for a very low salary.

If you asked me which eye I like more, I will not be able to answer because both are important to me likewise both the awards. I was really very happy and surprised when I got a communication for both the awards and I felt I should live up to the expectations in future also. This gave me appreciation from the British Medical Journal who appointed me as a member of the jury for selecting ‘Oscar Awards’ for eminent doctors from India. I was also appointed as an inspector for the National Board of Examination (NBE). I also received FRCP Glasgow, DSc, honours from MGR University, FICP (Fellow of Indian College of Physicians) from the Medical Council of India (MCI), FCCP (Fellow of the American College of Clinical Pharmacy) from USA; FCIP (Fellow of Council Independent Medical Practitioners of India), FACM (Fellow of Indian Academy of Clinical Medicine) from different departments.

Tell us about the books that you have authored. How do they aid a medical student during periods of learning, internship and afterwards?

I have authored a book on Clinical Medicine for medical students, which can be carried by them in their coat pocket. The second edition is ready to be released, ‘Medicine in Nutshell’ for PG students, ‘Treatment of Poisoning Drug Overdose’ for emergency, ICU and general practitioners, a book on “Medical Advice for Healthy Life” for general public in English, Tamil, Hindi and Telugu and now have completed a new “Text Book of Medicine”, third book for medical students, with 11 chapters extra, as the editor-in-chief.

The books are well received by students and public and have become good books for reference. The textbook will be released within six months.

Some students and staff prefer standard books written by foreign authors, some students and staff prefer Indian authors. What’s the difference? Why is there a difference of opinion? What do you suggest to your students?

Our books will be received by students and staffs very well since they have been written to international standards by me and my colleagues who are specialists and teachers in their branch. We have included world statistics and diseases, photos and X-rays on our own and 11 extra chapters namely:

1. Evidence based Medicine
2. Medical Ethics
3. Yoga and Medicine
4. Holistic system of Medicine
5. Alternative system of Medicine’
6. Drug Trials
7. Nuclear Medicine
8. Atlas of Radiology
9. Smoking and Alcohol
10. Air Travel
11. Nano Medicine and Biological warfare

And it is available in two volumes, easy to carry. Any book, whoever is the author, if written to international standards will be accepted by students and staffs.

You are a senior doctor in this field for many years. How has the field of medicine changed in these years? Is the ethics reducing? Is there a decrease in the trust element on doctors?

I am in private practice from 1971; the advances in medicine, in diagnosis and treatment have increased to many folds for the benefit of the patient community. Except for very minority, majority doctors maintain medical ethics and still the trust on doctors persist. The doctor should instil confidence and trust in the patient’s mind on the first consultation itself.

What is your opinion about issues on violence against doctors?

My opinion is if you practise scientific, academic medicine and get consultations from specialists in different branches when required and be transparent and explain to patient and relatives every day about the patient’s progress or deterioration, there will be good cooperation from the relatives and friends of the patient and violence is not known. At some hospitals, patients’ relatives become violent and damage hospital properties. This requires good protection to save the medical profession.

Like father, like daughter; your daughter is a great gynaecologist. Tell us a few words about her. Did you want her to join medicine or was it her own decision?

I am fortunate to marry Dr Lakshmi Devarajan who is a famous gynaecologist in Madras, a specialist in laparoscopic surgery. My daughter, Dr Sangeetha Ramesh, wanted to become a doctor in early childhood and completed MBBS, MD, DipNB (Diplomate National Board) and MRCOG (Member of Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists) and is now a consultant gynaecologist in London. My wife was a great inspiration for her to become a gynaecologist. Happily married to Dr Ramesh, a GP and orthopaedic consultant with two sweet grandsons studying in 11th and first standard.

What’s your opinion about medical students and young doctors wasting significant years in PG entrance test preparation? What’s a solution for this?

I feel education should be a birthright and every student who aspires for a postgraduate degree should be able to get admission. This is possible only by increasing the seats in postgraduate courses and also increasing the number of teaching hospitals.

A study, which was published recently, states that 51% of students enrolling in medical colleges in India are females. This proportion decreased further in postgraduation and thereafter. Ultimately, only 17% of doctors in India are females and only 6% of them in rural service. What do you think is the reason for this?

God produced a man and He was asked something better – He created a woman, an embodiment of sacrifice. Many women join medical colleges and also pursue a postgraduate degree course, get married, have children and have triple responsibility of medical profession, house maintenance and looking after the children. So, many of them cannot work in rural practice and their job depends on the place of work of the husband and education of the children. But still many woman doctors, in spite of all this, make a mark in all fields of medicine including research and scientific work. I salute them.

What’s your message for the young doctors?

My sincere request to medical students is to study very well, get highest qualification in the field of their choice and practise ethical, scientific and academic medicine. Please give some time in a day to read journals and spend some time in research work. Kindly spend some time to publish papers. For general practitioners to spend some time in reading recent advances, to attend continuing medical education programmes and workshops to increase their knowledge. Doctors should spend time in preventive medicine; advise patients regarding lifestyle modification, diet counselling, exercises, yoga, meditation and prayer. Doctors should also look after their own personal health by the above means.

by Usha Nandini M

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