Information Services Office   4.1.2013


Prof. Shekhar Kumta
Professor in the Department of Orthopaedics and Traumatology
Recipient of 2012 UGC Award for Teaching Excellence
(Photo by Keith Hiro)
Newsletter No. 410 > Thus Spake... > Prof. Shekhar Kumta on Medical Education

Prof. Shekhar Kumta on Medical Education


Why did you choose orthopaedics as your specialty?

This goes back to my childhood and youth in Mumbai. I was (and still am) very keen on outdoor activities and was an avid participant in the Scouts and the Red Cross, as well as other forms of community services. It was when I was young that an accident occurred to a close friend of my father's, in which he sustained considerable injury with his legs fractured. My father and I rushed to his rescue. We took him to the hospital where my eyes were open to a full array of the facilities, equipment and procedures of the emergency treatment regime. The family friend gradually recovered in the hospital and I became captivated. I decided there and then that medicine would be my career and helping others as a medical practitioner, my goal in life.

I completed my medical education in India, and it was a time when the laws against child labour were relatively lax and there were a lot of cases of children's hand injuries. I was rather dismayed by the fact that restoration was not always done as well as it should be. Then in 1984 I came to Hong Kong for a medical conference, and made the acquaintance of Prof. P.C. Leung (now Emeritus Professor of Orthopaedics and Traumatology of CUHK), who later became my mentor. I was very impressed by the standard of microsurgery in Hong Kong and, in 1989, I moved here to further my training and then started a teaching career in orthopaedics.

Have you observed any changes in medical education in Hong Kong in the last 20 years?

There have been a lot of changes since the time I first arrived in Hong Kong. In the first place, Hong Kong people have become much smarter than before. Their exposure has broadened, and their awareness of good practice standards and the most up-to-date advancements has never been higher. Their ideas and ideals are now much more focused, and their determination to achieve is much stronger. There is now a much greater emphasis on efficiency, and during these two decades new learning models have evolved. Society is on the move, and teaching should resonate with society.

When we talk about the comparison of the old with the new, it would be interesting to mention the story of Dr. Dwarkanath Kotnis (1910 – 1942), an Indian doctor (also from Mumbai) who came to China in 1938 on a medical aid mission, during the war against Japanese aggression. He married a Chinese woman, wrote a book about his experience, and eventually died in China. Much as the times and conditions of medical practice have changed in our two countries over three quarters of a century, I have observed that the basic belief, which is that it is our privilege to have the opportunity to treat those who are sick, has remained unchanged. Duty and service are still central to the practice of medicine in both China and India.

Medical education, however, has undergone a lot of changes in these years. There is now a lot more rapport between the teachers and the students, and there is a great deal of friendliness, openness, and a high degree of sensitivity to the limits of the students on the part of the teachers. Teaching is now thoroughly student-centred, and the internship, which is the transition from being a student to actual medical practice, is all-important. I make a point of seeing and counselling a good number of interns every year because they are undergoing a vulnerable phase, when they must learn to accept responsibility and the concept of duty, and also develop the willingness to accept mistakes.

Why are e-learning platforms so important in medical education?

Our Formative Assessment Case Studies (FACS), for example, is a web-based, interactive platform where students learn how to manage simulated cases of various levels of complexity, and is found to be a very helpful complement to our clinical teaching. We have also done a lot of work on mobile technologies, and have developed some software on our own although we still rely on purchased materials where we cannot produce them in-house.

Students enjoy being taught with the aid of technology, which greatly enhances their learning efficiency. Putting teaching materials into apps is a way to go forward as students love apps, but for that we need to recruit an Apps Master as not all teachers have the programming skills required. We will continue to explore further possibilities in e-learning and introduce platforms in which students may learn comfortably.

Has the UGC Award for Teaching Excellence changed anything?

The award, while much appreciated, has not brought about any change to my work and my private life. But the award money will be used to run workshops which will facilitate knowledge and skills transfer among medical and health students and practitioners. I hope these workshops will be of help to colleagues both within and beyond CUHK.

What was the most memorable encounter you have had with a student?

I was once engaged in a discussion with a very brilliant student on the subject of tumours. She asked me a rather fundamental question which, basic as it was, greatly impressed me for the insight it carried. It was a question that would not admit of any answers, but it inspired a research project which led to a UGC grant. I was deeply grateful to this student for her persistent and thought-provoking questions. Basic or insignificant as the subject is, no one can tell whether great truth or wisdom would not reside in a simple question.

Are you a hiker and a photographer?

Yes I am very keen on hiking, and I enjoy mountain-climbing and photography as well. I hike a lot in Hong Kong, and in the Indian mountains too every time I go back for vacation. This is my way of paying respect to Nature.

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