Intended for healthcare professionals

Feature Interview

Dinesh Bhugra: Loving the sound of breaking glass

BMJ 2020; 368 doi: (Published 11 February 2020) Cite this as: BMJ 2020;368:m446

Read all of the articles in our special issue on Racism in Medicine

  1. Shivali Fulchand
  1. The BMJ
  1. sfulchand{at}

From using a streetlight to study during his childhood in an industrial town in India to becoming president of the World Psychiatric Association, Dinesh Bhugra has led a remarkable life. Shivali Fulchand talks to him about his journey

Thinking differently from the start

“What makes people so different, if everyone has roughly the same anatomy and physiology?” It’s a question that struck Dinesh Bhugra in his second year of medical school, while cycling to his student accommodation on a bright morning in 1970 in Pune, India.

Bhugra, now 67, was born in 1952 and grew up in the industrial town of Yamuna Nagar in northern India. His Hindu parents had immigrated there from Pakistan during the 1947 India-Pakistan partition violence. “They had only the clothes on their backs,” he says.

At age 16 he won the prestigious National Science Talent Search scholarship, awarded to only 100 students throughout India, which would fund his education through to the completion of a PhD. “This was not good enough for my parents,” he says: they believed that he should aim for medicine. More than 10 000 people applied for just 120 seats at the Armed Forces Medical College in Pune.1 To his father’s joy, Bhugra was selected for admission. “It provided me with an interesting set of values and discipline and taught me to think outside of the box, while sticking to order and focusing on work.” he says.

But his questions on the body-mind intersection were not answered in the classroom, so he spent his spare time reading Freudian theories and Greek, Egyptian, and Indian histories of medicine. He tried to work in other medical specialties: “They didn’t feel right,” he …

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