The legacy of North India’s oldest medical institution shines bright
The oldest institution of medical education and research in north India, Government Medical College (GMC), Amritsar, has not just been healing people in the country but also abroad by producing doctors who are working in different corners of the world.
The college, which was established as a medical school in 1864 in Lahore (then British India) and shifted to Amritsar in 1920, has served as a nursery that has given teachers to various institutions including the Postgraduate Institute of Medical Education and Research (PGIMER), Chandigarh, and the All India Institute of Medical Science and Research (AIIMS), New Delhi. The school was upgraded to medical college in 1943.
Till 1918, it offered MPL diploma which was later converted to LSMF (licentiate of state medical faculty) and later in 1938 LMS (licentiate in state medical faculty).
Now it offers MBBS (bachelor of medicine and surgery), MD (doctor of medicine), MS (master of surgery) and super-specialisation courses among others.
The college spread over 165 acres is currently affiliated to the Baba Farid University of Medical Sciences (BFUMS), Faridkot.
“The two most prestigious medical institutions (AIIMS and PGIMER) of the country started functioning by shifting some of the faculty members of this college,” says Dr Sujata Sharma, principal of the college.
At the time of the country’s Partition, the college played a vital role in providing medical aid to the refugees who migrated from newly carved out Pakistan.
In the wake of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, hundreds of Afghan citizens were brought here for treatment, recalls Sharma who got enrolled in the institution as a student in 1967 and joined as a faculty member in 1993.
“In 1944, the institute was named Glancy Medical College after Sir Bertrand James Glancy, the then governor of Punjab. The new medical college started awarding MBBS degree. Since it was the only medical college in the region at that time, it became a centre of excellence that catered to Punjab, the erstwhile Patiala and East Punjab States (PEPSU) state and the adjoining states of Himachal Pradesh, Jammu & Kashmir and Rajasthan,” says the principal.
The college got its current name after Partition.
The college is running two drug de-addiction and rehabilitation centres with one situated on its campus and the other nearby. At a time when Punjab is under grip of drug menace, these centres are helping the addicts get rid of their addiction.
GNDH comes into existence in 1974
To attend to to the growing number of patients, Guru Nanak Dev Hospital (GNDH) was built on the college campus in 1974. This three-storey facility houses a spacious out-door section, emergency wards, and other speciality and super-specialty departments.
Dr Surinder Paul, medical superintendent of the hospital, says, “We provide all type of tertiary care and 24-hour emergency medical services. It also has a blood bank, ICU (intensive care unit) and NICU (neonatal intensive care unit). Round-the-clock diagnostic facilities such as CT, MRI are also available. State-of-the-art cardiac cath laboratory has started functioning”.
Making city ‘Mecca’ of eye surgery
For more than a century, Amritsar has produced noted eye surgeons, thanks to the college, thus earning the sobriquet ‘Mecca’ for the treatment of eye ailments. Medical textbooks still carry notes on the ‘Amritsar techniques’ for cataract surgery.
Pioneering efforts of ophthalmologists produced by this college revolutionised inter-ocular lens implant surgery. After the Partition, the college was the only institution in north India to offer a post-graduation degree in ophthalmology. Dr Tulsi Das started the famous Ram Lal Eye Hospital as a department for the college. The then Punjab chief minister Partap Singh Kairon entrusted the responsibility to him for setting up PGIMER at Chandigarh in 1962.
Noted eye surgeon late Dr Daljit Singh, known for transforming the traditional cataract treatment and bringing inter-ocular lens implant machinery from the United States under the Rotary International Grant Scheme, was a student of the college.
He treated noted personalities such as former President Giani Zail Singh.
The college alumni have held posts of directors, principals and heads of departments at premier institutions like AIIMS and PGIMER. Many of them have served in key positions in the armed forces as well. They include Lt Gen JS Paul, Air Marshall AS Chahal and Lt Gen JK Arora. Many went to the US, the United Kingdom and other countries and are holding key positions in various universities and hospitals, while some chose to be private practitioners.
Dr Pritam Singh was the first student of the college who became its principal.
Dr Balwant Singh Tung was the first student of the college to become director, research and medical education, Punjab. Dr Tejbir Singh and Dr Sujata Sharma have also held the post.
The college alumni who were awarded with India’s fourth-highest civilian award are Dr JS Bajaj, Dr Daljit Singh, Dr Randhir Sud and Dr Anil Kumar
Bhalla. Dr LS Chawla and Dr JS Gujral have served as vice-chancellors of the Baba Farid University of Health Sciences, as per data shared by the department of state research and medical education.
Formed in 2000, the Amritsar Medical College Alumni Association (AMCAA) has 550 members. The Amritsar Medical and Dental Alumni Association of North America (AMDAANA) was founded in 1979. It has a mailing list of over 800 with over 250 life members. The college alumni also have an association in UK. There are plans to develop a worldwide GMCA alumni network.
Heritage and its preservation
All the old buildings of the college were constructed in the 1920s when the institute was shifted from Lahore.
Heritage expert Prof Balwinder Singh, who retired as head of the school of planning at Guru Nanak Dev University (GNDU), Amritsar, says that buildings were built as per British architecture.
Dr Sujata Sharma says that aesthetically designed hostel buildings were built on the pattern of the University of Cambridge, UK.
Some of the older buildings such as the principal’s office and residence, pharmacology and anatomy blocks have been accorded heritage status and are being restored with the help of the state tourism department.
The college has nine hostels (four for boys and five for girls). “The work on two new hostels, a student centre, a new basic sciences block and a multi-level parking is complete. The auditorium has been upgraded as state-of-the-art structure,” says the principal.
“Rs 70 crore has been granted for an overall upgrade of the college. The college and affiliated hospitals have been allowed to collect and spend the user charges for the benefit of the students and patients,” says state minister of medical education and research Brahm Mohindra.
The capacity of the clinical units will be increased to cater to increase in the number of admissions, he said. A year ago, the foundation stone of the first cancer institute of the state was laid at an estimated cost of ₹114 crore.
The project will executed jointly by the state and the Centre. Besides, four lecture theatres, three examination halls, a medical education unit will start in near future, an official said.
The college started awarding postgraduate degrees and diplomas after independence. The number of MBBS admissions has been increased over the years from 60 in 1949 to 200 at present. At present, more than 21 departments offer postgraduate courses with an annual intake of 132 students.