A memorable teacher

BMJ 2002; 325 doi: (Published 07 September 2002) Cite this as: BMJ 2002;325:527
  1. Sanjay A Pai, consultant pathologist. (s_pai{at}
  1. Manipal Hospital, Bangalore, India

    You learn better from a teacher who sets an example and leads from the front rather than one who merely spouts theory. I learnt many lessons, in the space of half an hour, from Dr Farokh Udwadia, professor of medicine at Grant Medical College and the Sir JJ Group of Hospitals in Bombay, when I was an undergraduate in the mid-1980s.

    At a clinical meeting in early 1986, after the first case had been presented, Dr Udwadia walked out of the seminar room and returned a few moments later, leading a patient by her hand. The patient was a young woman, probably in her mid-20s. While the audience was wondering what this was leading to—why was the professor bringing her in when he had hordes of residents to do it?—I realised what disease the patient had and why Dr Udwadia was making a point of holding her hand to lead her in. This was the first patient with AIDS that we had in JJ Hospital and among the first few cases in India. The point that Dr Udwadia made was clear: although AIDS was, then, just appearing on the horizon and we were all interested in seeing such patients—learning the symptoms, signs, and the pathology—it was imperative not to treat the patients like exhibits. They were human beings and deserved, and needed, to be treated as such.

    Was I the only person who learnt this lesson ? Last year, during a talk on patients' rights at a seminar on medical ethics, I referred to this incident as one that had left a strong impression on my mind. To my pleasant surprise, a doctor from the audience stood up and said that he, too, was present that day and remembered the event distinctly.

    That was not the only thing I learnt on that day. Earlier, while my friend and I were waiting for the lift on the ground floor, we saw the professor dash past us and charge up the stairs to the seminar hall on the sixth floor. As we sheepishly followed him, he taught me two other lessons—never be late for a meeting and, as I read in the Journal of Clinical Pathology (1995;48:1075-7) years later as a pathology resident, “lifts are for wimps.”

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