Teaching of public health in Indian medical colleges: Guest blogger Dr. Kiran Kumbhar

Most medical undergraduate students in India rate PSM (Preventive and Social Medicine) as the most tedious subject in the curriculum; the ennui being exacerbated by, with all due respect to the writers of Park’s, the monotonous nature of the subject’s premier textbook. I believe that public health is such a wonderful subject that a student, on getting their first copy of Park’s, must be at least as excited as they are on touching their first shimmering Harrison’s. It seems an impossible dream for now. There are several issues troubling public health education in India, as are there infinite problems plaguing the public health system itself. Authorities from the PSM/SPM departments of all medical colleges must seriously ruminate and find ways to attract bright and enthusiastic minds to their PG courses, rather than the generally fatigued, desperate, and choiceless ones they manage to induct now. Public health (PH) is getting more and more important in an ever-shrinking world, and is going to require lots of musketeers in the near future. The endemic apathy of students towards the subject thus needs to be addressed urgently and solutions need to be devised. We can very well start with standardizing the name for the subject – ‘Public Health’ I'd propose -- rather than scaring away already dispassionate students with many different names (PSM, SPM, CFM, Community Medicine, etc.) Other arch subjects like Medicine, Surgery, Obstetrics do not boast of such a fancy versatility of monikers; why should Public Health?

A subject is as good as its teacher. We need energetic, knowledgeable tutors for Public Health: doctors who will speak effusively and passionately about, say, John Snow and how he helped arrest a cholera rampage in 1854 London through common sense; or about the wonderful public experiments on vaccination of the great Louis Pasteur. Rather what students generally get is a lecturer who mostly prates on about elephantine definitions or unending lists of numbers (birth rates, mortality rates etc.). Public Health is so much about stories and people, just like History, and interestingly both of these beautiful subjects are disserved by teachers who concentrate more on numbers (rates in PH and dates in History). For example...

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7 Comments

  1. VALLURI RAMARAO
    Posted Aug 2013 at 3:36 pm | Permalink

    Motivating stories from history with interesting anecdotes. The young graduates coming out from Medical colleges are more attracted by clinical subjects. The young tutors and professors need more communicative skills. There was some disinterest among young people because of several data. How many people know that in US and other places in addition to medical degrees many do MPH which is vital many research works . The value of public health is not projected in India.I appreciate the article.

  2. Lalit Singh
    Posted Aug 2013 at 3:52 am | Permalink

    there needs to be a context for teaching and learning. problem based learning and teaching in public health is the need of the hour. it has been reasonably well accepted in clinical subjects now. we should be able to mould the medical students into smart, intelligent human beings…after all they are expected to solve critical health issues and problems- medical, social, emotional and sometimes political…so why not teach and train them that way. just monotonous lectures and verbose-bland textbooks will only make them more afraid of teh subject.

  3. Raman B V
    Posted Sep 2013 at 4:23 pm | Permalink

    All the motivating stories and selflessness vanish as soon as an individual enters advanced phases of life like marriage, children etc. All what matters in today’s society is the bank balance and symbols of high class like a car or a bungalow. People get sucked into the societal pressures and forget what motivated them to enter the profession they are in. Maybe our family values are so strong that we cannot devote selflessly to other pursuits like science or medicine.

  4. Jyothi Samudrala
    Posted Sep 2013 at 4:02 am | Permalink

    Good Evening Dr.Kiran Kumbhar,
    Congratulations,Dr.Kiran.I completely support and give my whole hearted encouragement to you for an idea of developing the “IMPORTANCE OF PUBLIC HEALTH FOR CURRENT MEDICAL STUDENTS IN INDIA”. By the way I am Dr.JYOTHI SAMUDRALA graduated MBBS from MYSORE UNIVERSITY in 1995 and I am a post graduate student from GEORGE WASHINGTON UNIVERSITY in 2005. I worked in Hyderabad as Casuality Medical Officer and also an IICU incharge in YASHODA HOSPITAL(Somajiguda branch) during the years from 2007-2012.Currently,I am residing in upstate Newyork,USA.
    Current Medical students from india do not show any kind of interest in PSM subject.They take it in an easy subject.But it is not true.There are a lot ways to make student/s to realize how important the SUBJECT is.We need to have full encourage ment from all healthcare proffessionals from Hospitals,Universities and NGO organizations AND INSURANCE COMPANIES to help and encourage about “What is PUBLIC HEALTH IS?”-Public Health is not just a definition but is”the science and art of preventing disease, prolonging life and promoting health through the organized efforts and informed choices of society, organizations, public and private, communities and individuals.”.

    Thank you very much.It was nice reading your article.
    Dr.Jyothi Samudrala MBBS MPH(MCH)
    jsamudrala@yahoo.com

  5. dr. harish chandra varshney
    Posted Sep 2013 at 5:04 pm | Permalink

    i did my mbbs from bhu by stndg i in order of merit (1965 sept batch).after 1 yr comp rot internship, i joined deptt of med as paid house physician.since i had come from a middleclass family of a ayrd practitioner with leanings to socialism.thus a socialist was practicing internal medicine.tho i was exposed to ground realities of poverty & sicknessbut it was a bigger lesson.i wasalways thinking about the utility of our studies & way of exams.they were tuned to our &many other under or developing countries.during my final yrs of mbbs & IN INTERNSHIP ALSO I CAME UNDER THE DYNamic spell of prof s m marwah.at that time he was leading a’multy purpose, multy disciplinary,multymstage surveysof 4 dev blocks of varanasi distt.there was great enthusiasm for this study & many great souls were attracted to this social experiment to findthe answers related to health & development. that was psm in those days.my father spent hardly rs 5000 for whole of my mbbs. we felt ou r moral duty to serve our own people.now even 50000 are not enuf for a month.wud u now encouage anybody to earn reasonably & honestly.if it is not public health ,it is no medicine.my believe at this age of>72 is that that heath & educatoin shud not be in pvt hands, howsoever they may be washed in whole of the scent of arabia.thanx

  6. DHANWANTARI PANCHOLI
    Posted Oct 2013 at 7:53 am | Permalink

    A must.-Dr Pancholi

  7. Dr Mohan Lal Jangwal
    Posted Jan 2014 at 5:49 am | Permalink

    This is unfortunate for the field of public health,that most of the students even opted for the public health remains disinterested throughout their life.I think most of the time this is because of lack of basic understanding about field,Lack of motivation from their teachers and poor acceptance of this subject by the society & even by the medical fraternity.Teaching methods of the public health should be problem based by telling success stories of public health as rightly mentioned in the article.

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