Calcutta Medical College, Calcutta

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By GET THE LOWDOWN ON THE INSTITUTE OF THE WEEK Dr Prasanta K. Basu, head, department of neurology, CMC, remembers his college days
  • Published 20.04.05

This is the oldest medical college in Asia,? says Professor Jayasri Mitra Ghosh, principal of Calcutta Medical College, somewhat smugly, sitting in her spacious office room in the administrative building of the College Street campus. And, yes, she?s proud to be associated with it. And why not? You look around the ancient room. One wall of it is lined with framed brass plates embossed with the names of all the past and present principals. It begins with M.J. Bramley, assistant surgeon, who was the first principal from 1835 to 1837. And it ends with Mitra Ghosh?s name.

Rich history

But though Calcutta Medical College was established in 1835, its history goes back further. It was in June 1822 that the School of Native Doctors was established in Bengal, reportedly ?for the instruction of natives in medicine with a view to civil and military service?. Other schools of medicine during this time included classes in the unani and ayurvedic systems taught at the Madrassa and the Sanskrit College respectively.

But in 1833, Lord Bentinck appointed a committee to report on the quality of education being imparted in these medical institutions and as per the recommendation of the committee, on January 28, 1835, abolished all three.

Subsequently, a decree was passed for the creation of a new college ?for the instruction of a certain specified number of young Indians ?without distinction of caste or creed ? in the various branches of medicine?. It was on a happy day in February 1835 that a batch of 50 young Indian boys first attended classes at the college. They were to receive a stipend of Rs 7 to Rs 12 each. Girls were not allowed admission until 1876. Even then, it was not until 1884 that the first woman, a Kadambini Ganguly, got admission.

Many changes

Over the years admission procedures and course curricula have undergone many changes. Today, each year, 155 students are admitted to the MBBS degree course, which is of four-and-a-half-years? duration, followed by one year of internship. Postgraduate courses too are conducted by the different departments with a two-year diploma programme and a three-year degree programme in MD.

?What remains the same,? insists Professor Mitra Ghosh, ?is the high standard of education?. She points out that 85 per cent of those who are admitted are Joint Entrance Exam toppers, and the rest ? between 12 to 15 per cent ? students from across the country, who have scored high in the pre-medical test.

Bond with the best

In fact, it is this tradition of academic excellence that is a major draw for students. Saikat Sarkar, student of third-year MBBS is from Burdwan, but he says, ?CMC was my first choice because it is simply the best in the state in terms of medical education?. His classmate, Portia Saha, from Jalpaiguri, was charmed by its history. ?I feel privileged to be able to study in the oldest medical institution in the continent.? After all, it was here that, on January 10, 1836, five ?courageous? Indian students, led by Raj Kristo Dey, for the first time in the country, planted a scalpel in a dead human body, defying the social ban on anatomical dissection.

While the academic curriculum adheres to Medical Council of India standards, in terms of infrastructure, Mitra Ghosh says, it is at par with the best in the country. These include well-equipped labs, modern audio-visual teaching aids, computers and well-stocked libraries. The Calcutta Medical College Hospital, further, allows for the opportunity of ?bedside teaching,? where students gain hands-on experience.

Dola Mitra

Old memories

It was in 1952 that I was admitted to the college. It was the best medical college in the whole of India at the time and only those who had secured a first division in Intermediate Science could apply for an admission form. Then we had to face a rigorous interview. I was extremely nervous. Those days it was not easy to get star marks in school. I was asked what subjects I had got letters in. I had three.

My memory of that period is of intense studying. It was only five years after Independence and at that time some of the discipline of the British period was still in place. Our teachers were strict and the curriculum tough. Of course, we did bunk classes, especially the ones which were not very interesting. But I always enjoyed studying here and after graduation in 1957, decided that I would teach here too.

As told to Dola Mitra