Personal Views

Why I became a doctor

BMJ 1996; 313 doi: (Published 07 September 1996) Cite this as: BMJ 1996;313:632
  1. Maria Vassallo

    There is an art in walking through paddyfields in flip flops and not splattering your clothes with mud. It was an art which I lacked as I splashed through the Indian summer sunshine. I was following at the heels of Prem-ji, a tall man of the Brahmin caste, who had abandoned a life of oldfashioned luxury to work with lepers in one of the poorest parts of India. He enjoyed a simple vanity in his life of simplicity, possessing a wardrobe with only two changes of clothes, all white, always immaculate, the aesthete as well as the ascetic. Prem-ji was working with a project devoted to treating and rehabilitating people with leprosy. I was an English student on holiday and Prem-ji was about to give me my first lesson in examining a patient.

    After a good hour and a half's walk we came to a tiny hamlet of ramshackle huts. The welcome we were given was from the heart. Leprosy on the hands or face bears a huge stigma in India. The individual becomes unemployable, unmarriageable, forced to leave the familiar village, confronted with the ultimate in destitution. In this culture a good welcome is much enjoyed, but lepers, who are stripped almost of the …

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