This blog is about new entrants to the Colombo Medical Faculty of the University of Ceylon (as it was then known) in June 1962. Please address all communications to: firstname.lastname@example.org.You may bookmark this page for easier access later.
Header image: Courtesy Prof. Rohan Jayasekara, Dean, Faculty of Medicine, University of Colombo (2011 - 2014).
My first introduction to the Medical Faculty was on
registration day. It started with virtual ‘road blocks’ by seniors to round up
the freshers. This was the beginning of the rag to usher in the new recruits
and introduce them to a new brand of nastiness, a tradition that has prevailed
since the very beginning of the institution. This infamous ritual has become
more outrageous with time.This kind of
harassment went on for a further fortnight after we joined. What an introduction to a supposed sanctuary of like minded
scholars!! As I look back this
behavior was accepted by many of the staff in the Faculty and it was even
encouraged by some of them. It is the
responsibility of the Vice Chancellor to stamp out ragging unless he too
condoned it. Ragging has caused the death of students at Peradeniya University.
I hope it is not a part of the faculty calendar anymore. I admire the stance
taken by Buddhadasa Bhodinayake who stood up to those bullies and took no part
in this pointless ritual. We should move to a system available in most British
universities where there is a freshers week. During this time there is an
organized period of induction by the management and the senior students help
the newcomers to settle in.
Although I loved the study of anatomy, life in the Block was
a nightmare. There was this need to learn the subject in such great detail
which when we look back now was totally and utterly pointless. Thankfully Dr
Leicester Jayawardene was reasonable. The rest persisted in making the weekly
signatures a stressful ordeal. Some tutors even enjoyed the humiliation they
caused the hapless students who sat in a circle. They were surrounded by their peers waiting to grab any
pearls of wisdom or to laugh at their mistakes. There was much giggling at the sarcastic comments by the tutors. That was indeed
the circle of death. Physiology and Biochemistry were taught and administered
well. The only time I flinched was when
‘Prick’ Perera jabbed my finger for a full blood count. Prof Koch, Prof Hoover andCarlo Fonseka helped to bring some sanity onto an otherwise manic two
As we moved on to the 3rd and 4th
years we gained confidence. The 3rd
year without examinations was a shelter from the turmoil and strife around me. During our holidays Nalin Nanayakkara and I
went on a motor cycle journey to the central hills on his impressive red Moto
Guzzi. It was a most memorable journey that will remain with me forever.
After the Block the subjects we studied seem more relevant. Prof
GH Cooray, Prof HVJ Fernando, Prof Kottegoda, Prof.Chapman, Prof Abhayaratne and Prof
Dissanayake were great teachers who treated the students as human beings. I
admire them greatly and remember them with much affection.
In the 3rd year we started clinical work with the
stethoscopes round our necks. Whether we needed them or not it never left our collar.
My first clinical appointment was with Dr Thanabalasunderam. He was a superb
teacher and one of the best. He made us work hard and taught us well. His fine
approach to clinical problems and their solutions has remained with me ever
since. I am ever so grateful to the Visiting Physicians of the Ragama section
of the GHC for teaching me medicine. Dr Wijenaike, Dr Medonza, Dr DJ Attygalle,
Dr Ernie Peiris were excellent teachers. Despite their busy schedule of ward
rounds, clinics and private practice they found time to teach us clinical
methods. They took great trouble to find interesting patients with multiple clinical problems. Their efforts bore fruit as
many of their students went on to be Consultants in various fields of medicine
with great distinction, both at home and abroad.
The surgeons who constantly deal with blood and guts had a
macho image. Of the surgeons Dr Austin commanded and demanded respect. Once he
was most annoyed I didn’t stand up when he walked passed me near the operating
theatre. I really thought he would assault me as he raised me up by my shirt
collar with my feet dangling in the air. Need I say more about such behaviour. He was a good teacher. Dr Anthonis showed
great kindness to his patients and taught his students well. Dr Niles had a
volatile temper towards his patients but was kind to us all and was a fine
tutor. His clinical classes were full of humor and always a good laugh. He had
this great ability to see the funny side of day to day clinical problems. It
was like being at a comedy show. Darrell Weinman, the neurosurgeon, was a superb
teacher. He had a special room for his ward classes which was always full to
capacity. He was a showman ‘par excellence’ and taught us the whole process
from history taking to examination, diagnosis and treatmentwith great aplomb. He was a kind man. I will
not forget the concern he had for his patients.
Our Clinical Professors were good clinicians. They were
committed to make certain we learnt our trade well before being released on the
general public. Some of their teaching methods were archaic and depended on
creating an aura of fear. In the process they humiliated students and at times
reduced them to tears. This was totally and utterly repulsive and unacceptable.
The total of 4 months I clerked with The
Professors of Medicine and Obstetrics may have reduced my life span by a good 4
years. The insults were relentless and damaging.There are many anecdotes and sordid
storieswhich I will not relate as so
many years have now passed and those culpable are not alive to defend
themselves.Some say they would never
have studied without this strict regime – now that is what I call “Bull Shit”. Prof
Navaratne, was a notable exception. He was a kind person and never showed anger
to his students. We were never terrorized or intimidated by him or his
department.Didn’t we study surgery to
pass the exams??
All through the 5 years in medical schoolthere was this aura of fear that pervaded the
corridors, wards and lecture theatres. Such an atmosphere of terror was created by a small minority of teaching
staff. It amounts to bullying and psychological vandalism. This should not be
tolerated in any institution. I am reliably informed this still goes on in the
faculty in Colombo. It is sad this culture of bullying is not abating despite the
passage of years. This is the responsibility of the Dean of the faculty to
stamp out unacceptable behavior by his/her staff. Bullying was not recognized
as a problem in the Faculty during my time.Those who were bullied had no one to turn to hencewere unable to speak of their ordeal. We felt nothing would
be done about it even if we complained.There was always the distinct possibility of victimisation. In their
fields, both professors were extremely clever and able doctors. But they needed
to be taught how to teach and influence students. Bullying in Universities is a
recognised problem worldwide and it requires the Institution to take necessary
action. Mostly it is the hierarchical
nature of the environment to blame. Both the staff and the students have to be
educated how to prevent and how to bring it to the attention of the authorities.
To me personally the stress that prevailed was unbearable
and took its toll. Bullying destroys morale. I was at my wits end not knowing
how to cope with this constant battering on a daily basis. I seldom spoke about my inner feelings. It
wasn’t something I could discuss with my friends or even my parents. The result
was anxiety, distress and the loss of
confidence in my own ability which lasted all through my years in medical
school. I was reticent while presenting cases in the ward and at examinations
where I performed poorly. It was when I emigrated to the UK that I regained my
confidence as my bosses treated me with kindness and respect. They appreciated
my hard work. Thankfully I was able to have a rewarding career in Radiology.
The nightmare that began as I started in the Block ended the
day I passed the finals in June 1967. The relief was almost palpable. I still
look back on those years with trepidation but harbor no grudges. I sincerely
hope things would change for the better.
I lament that in real life, unlike fairytales, stories do
not always have happy endings. Thankfully, I have not been scarred for life for
those traumatic five years in medical school.We were all in it together. Some withstood the pressures much better
than others. What stood me in good stead was the camaraderie that existed and
the friendships that I made during those grueling years. So much time has
passed that I can now maintain an emotional distance from the turmoil of the