February 2016 | Issue 22

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Putting the humanity back into medicine


Being a doctor is more than just treating an illness or a patient. It involves communication, empathy, and compassion, to be truly able to treat the patient. It is this lesson that Director of Christian Medical College Vellore (CMC Vellore) Dr Sunil Chandy wanted to impart to the more than 50 LKCMedicine students and staff who attended his lecture on Humanity in Medicine on 13 January at the Experimental Medicine Building.

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Which way is medicine going? With so much technology and knowledge, are we as physicians forgetting being human beings?" the alumnus of CMC Vellore asked the audience, a challenge that both LKCMedicine and CMC Vellore address through their patient-centred curricula.

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Dr Sunil Chandy speaks about Humanity in Medicine

Different backgrounds, same beliefs
Founded in 1900, CMC Vellore has come a long way since its humble beginnings. Set up by Dr Ida S Scudder, an American missionary, to train female doctors who could care for women who refused to be cared for by male doctors, CMC Vellore has become one of the top medical institutions in India. It now boasts a 2,700-bed hospital, and prides itself on three mission thrusts: Service, Education, and Research. Giving the background of CMC, Dr Chandy stressed that "the teaching is very community-based clinical, bedside and ​comprehensive".

Despite the differences in age, culture, and location, the fundamentals of both LKCMedicine and CMC Vellore are very similar. Regular patient contact is valued and seen as key in instilling good communication skills and more importantly, in nurturing compassion and empathy in the students. Dr Chandy shared his belief that contact with patients helps "convert them [doctors] from just being scientists and knowledge seekers to being physicians who are socially conscious, possess empathy and compassion, and ultimately, are humane."

"There is a community orientation programme for students, where they spend time and live in villages alongside the people in the community to nurture the ethics of service," added Dr Chandy. This is an approach mirrored in LKCMedicine's early exposure of students to polyclinics and hospitals as well as the Long-Term Patient Project, where students visit patients with chronic illnesses in their homes.

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​The audience at Dr Sunil Chandy's talk includes LKCMedicine faculty, staff and students as well as the visiting Imperial delegation

​Another key feature in CMC Vellore is the concept of foster parenting, where students are assigned to a faculty member whose home will become their home away from home. "This provides students with a greater understanding of the life they would come to lead with a role model and where their lecturers are coming from," said Dr Chandy. Although different from the foster system, LKCMedicine's House System advocates the same principles. It provides students with the support and guidance of tutors and peers, who have walked and are walking beside them on the road to become doctors.

These programmes inculcate a spirit of service and humanity, and allow students to be able to "make that connection with patients that only doctors are privileged enough to be able to," said Dr Chandy.

Being agents of change
"We, the healthcare community, are a really small community when compared with others. But we can make a difference by maintaining ethicality, honesty, and being human before being a physician," said Dr Chandy.

It is this message that has resonated most with attendees, including Assistant Professor of Metabolic Disease and Lead for Practicals Yusuf Ali, who said after the talk, "The elements of service, altruism and spirituality throughout the talk were refreshing and relevant, especially in this day and age of material pursuits. This is something I feel is worth aspiring towards and that I will take with me for the rest of my career." 

Already united by the many shared similarities, LKCMedicine and CMC Vellore also signed a Memorandum of Understanding to provide the framework for greater collaboration. Dr Chandy shared his hopes that a planned exchange programme between the Schools would be realised soon. "Singaporeans adapt the best from what I have seen, from language and culture to food, and have been much fun. As long as we have the accommodation to do so, we would be happy to accommodate students as much as we can," said Dr Chandy.

Vice-Dean for Education Associate Professor Naomi Low-Beer, whose late grandmother was one of the early students at CMC Vellore, agreed. "I am sure the exchange programme will be an enriching experience for both groups of students. As Singapore's newest medical school, we have much to learn from, and share with CMC Vellore, where the commitment to first-class education and high quality accessible healthcare has stood the test of time," said Assoc Prof Low-Beer.