An international conference on ‘The Future of Medical Education’ was held at the Sathya Sai Grama at Muddenahalli in Karnataka on November 21 and 22. Organised by a committee headed by Prof. Kanwaljeet Anand of Stanford University, under the aegis of the Sri Sathya Sai University for Human Excellence, it reflected the university’s determination “to reverse the current trends of commercialisation of knowledge, and herald a new goal of divinisation of humans by teaching sciences alongside spirituality, humanities alongside divinity, and excellence alongside enlightenment.”
Big pharma and cocktail dinners, usually an integral part of medical conferences, were absent at the conference. Instead, there was sumptuous vegetarian food and classical music by India’s top artists! The keynote address by Dr M.R. Rajagopal of Pallium India, who champions the cause of compassionate end of life care, set the tone for the conference. SadguruSri Madhusudan Sai in his inaugural address called upon the world to emphasise the ‘care’ aspect of healthcare in medical education and address two accessibility and affordability issues: access to affordable healthcare for the rural underserved population and access to affordable medical education for rural youth.
Dr Nitin Gangane of Sevagram, Maharashtra, and Dr B.N. Gangadhar, former chief of National Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences, spoke of an urgent need to go beyond just a NEET examination for selection of medical students. Criteria beyond the academic were necessary so that those with an aptitude to serve as doctors could be selected. Dr Pawanindra Lal, who heads the National Board of Examinations in Medical Sciences, revealed that the government was launching two-year postgraduate diploma courses with 24/7 residency programmes at district hospitals, which serve 60 to 70 per cent of rural folk. This move was a first step towards improving healthcare delivery in these areas.
That postgraduate training needed to be revamped to create not just competent, but compassionate and calm doctors, was driven home by Dr V.K. Paul of the NITI Aayog and Dr M.K. Ramesh, president of the PostGraduate Medical Education Board of India. Dr Prithika Chary, neurologist and neurosurgeon, explained ways to train medical students to maximize their SQ (spiritual quotient), and not just IQ and EQ, so that they turn out to be true healers with head-heart-hand harmony. Dr Lars Osterberg of Stanford and Dr K. Esuvaranathan of Singapore emphasized that the teaching of the art of medicine and ontological coaching for medical students had to be centrestage in these turbulent times, if they had to turn out as doctors who do not burn out.
A whole session was devoted to highlight the urgent need for Integrative Medicine. In India, public interest litigation is necessary for Integrative Medicine to happen, as the law of the land now decrees that while an ASHA worker can recommend our own traditional, invaluable, antioxidant and vitamin C rich pro health Chyavanaprasham, an MBBS doctor cannot! Also though one may be qualified in more than one system, one can practise only one system, thus negating the possibility of true Integrative Medicine. Integrative Medicine is best for lifestyle diseases such as diabetes and hypertension, and there has been a flurry of papers in reputable peer reviewed journals about the benefits of Integrative Therapy in COVID-19.
Doyens of traditional systems of medicine spoke of practical ways to create integrative medicine globally. Among these speakers were Dr Rajesh Kotecha, secretary of AYUSH department, Dr H.R. Nagendra, chancellor of S-VYASA, Dr Ram Manohar of the Amrita School of Ayurveda, Dr Geetha Krishnan of the WHO, and Dr J.L. Berra of Argentina, the chairman of the session. Interestingly, Dr Teresa Cutts of the USA, echoed the tenets of Ayurveda during another session, when she spoke of the need to teach medical students about the leading causes of life, rather than only about the leading causes of diseases and death.
The conference presented technology to improve accessibility and affordability of healthcare for the underserved. Cardiologist Dr Raj Shah of the USA, through the IIT alumni initiative of philanthropy through technology, has taken affordable quality primary healthcare to 600 remote Indian villages through telemedicine services, complete with vending machines that dispense prescribed medicines. A presentation on the compassion driven research of Dr Bipin Nair of Amrita University, responible for many cost-cutting innovations, added another dimension to the future of medical education.
For a large number of medical students, the most inspiring address was that of Dr Solomon Chelliah, ‘the God of Gadag’. As President Abdul Kalam once said, Chelliah represents the kind of doctor India needs. A graduate of CMC, Vellore, Chelliah spent a lifetime turning around a moribund mission hospital into a vibrant health hub providing quality, affordable speciality healthcare right at their doorstep, most inclusively, for a multi-faith, multi-creed, rural pastoral community.
The valedictory function saw the Sri Sathya Sai University for Human Excellence sign an MOU with the Mahatma Gandhi Institute of Medical Sciences, Wardha, to collaborate on improving healthcare for the rural underserved. Twenty-three children with congenital heart disease, who were successfully operated on, with the help of the surgical team from the Sri Sathya Sai Sanjeevani Hospitals, totally free of cost, at the newly expanded Sri Sathya Sai Sarla Memorial Hospital, received Gift of Life certificates from the chief guest, Karnataka's Minister for Health and Medical Education, Dr K. Sudhakar. Simply floored by the experience, the minister said that SadguruSri Madhusudan Sai had succeeded in doing what even the government could not.
Based on the conference recommendations, a white paper will be submitted to the State and Central governments for action. At the valedictory, Sadguru Madhusudan Sai, who founded all these institutions, following in the footsteps of his Master, Sri Sathya Sai Baba, announced his plans to establish a medical college providing totally free medical education for deserving but disadvantaged rural youth. Going by his track record, it cannot but happen!