The Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine has served as the model for American medical schools since its founding in 1893. Johns Hopkins, Harvard, and UPenn have consistently been the top three medical schools for research in America, with Harvard and Johns Hopkins rotating into the top spot periodically, according to US News and World Report.
Photo by: Johns Hopkins University
Dr Mohan Chellappa, President, Global Ventures, Johns Hopkins Medicine International, says the face of medicine is constantly changing so the school’s new medical curriculum reflects the latest scientific advances.
Chellappa, who is a Fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons Edinburgh and Fellow of the American College of Surgeons, talked to Uttara Choudhury in New York about how surgeons need to have a passion for the job as it is one of the most demanding medical specialties.
Medical education at Johns Hopkins is ranked as one of the best in the world. Can you talk a little about what makes it such a great destination for South Asian physicians?
We are a significant research-based institution. Johns Hopkins scientists receive more federal research support annually ($435 million in 2009) than counterparts in other US medical schools
Recently we have introduced a new curriculum where students at Hopkins learn through the Genes to Society Curriculum, which pairs academics with concurrent clinical experience. We believe the sequencing of the human genome will impact the lives of this doctor generation and the next. Hopkins has incorporated the explosion of biomedical knowledge, new technologies, and emerging multidisciplinary topics into the curriculum.
We have moved away from a partitioned medical curriculum to one that integrates basic, clinical and social science throughout all four years and allows students to revisit topics in light of their increasing knowledge base.
Does Johns Hopkins get a lot of South Asian students?
Yes, we do have students from the Indian/South Asian subcontinent, as well as from other parts of the world. We are very open. The admission process is competitive and the best candidate wins a spot.
You have pioneered laparoscopic gastrointestinal surgery in Asia and provided training in laparoscopic techniques to many surgeons from the Mid-East and Asia Pacific Region. Do surgeons have to constantly upgrade their skills as there are rapid developments in new technologies?
Laparoscopic surgery,also called minimally invasive surgery, has become popular since the 1990s due to its effectiveness and quick recovery time. We have to constantly refresh our skills to keep pace with the refinements in laparoscopic surgery thanks to specialized instruments and robotic assistants. From simple to more complex surgeries, the proportion of laparoscopic to open procedures is increasing.
How much has interest in laparoscopic surgery as a career choice for medical students increased or declined in recent years?
I want to clarify that laparoscopic surgery is not defined as a separate career. Laparoscopic surgery is a skill-set that a general surgeon may sub-specialize in. Gallbladders, appendices, and colons can be removed with this technique. On the whole, there is a lot of interest among surgeons in learning laparoscopic procedures. It is an additional skill-set which a lot of surgeons would like to acquire.
Do surgeons learn about laparoscopic surgery after doing a general residency in surgery?
Not necessarily. What happens is that laparoscopic surgery is now becoming part and parcel of the training one goes through even in residency training programs. General surgeons that are trained today are expected to be proficient in laparoscopic procedures.
Is it true that you have to love being in the operating room to consider surgery as a career choice as it is one of the most demanding medical specialties?
Surgery is certainly a demanding field as it requires a commitment of your time. You have to make some sacrifices to be a good surgeon. Surgical training includes five years for general surgery clinical training and another two years for any subspecialty, basically a minimum of five and sometimes up to 11 years of training.
Work hours can be very long so in order to be a really good surgeon you need to have a passion for the job. There are dramatic moments while you are performing surgery when as a surgeon you feel ‘It’s okay, I chose the right profession.’ During a successful operation, you as a surgeon can tell that with your hands and knowledge, you’ve made a difference in a patient’s life almost immediately.
For most doctors the eight years (or more) of medical classes and hospital training are long enough. But now doctors like you are spending time earning degrees in business and management. How important do you think it is for doctors to have an MBA?
Many senior doctors reach a point where they move into an administrative position. It then becomes helpful if they are able to understand the health care system, the costs of providing healthcare and the methodologies for bringing efficiencies. If you are a doctor running a hospital then it is helpful to have a MBA. It will help you to take the right business decisions. The emphasis now is on healthcare being affordable and universal.
Can you talk about some of the initiatives of Johns Hopkins Medicine International in South-East Asia?
Johns Hopkins has been collaborating on a number of projects in that part of the world. I would like to mention two of them.
We have the Johns Hopkins Singapore International Medical Centre (JHSIMC), which is an oncology service that is jointly owned and managed by Johns Hopkins Medicine International. It is part of the Cancer Therapeutics Research Group and engages the expertise of member institutions in developing new therapies for cancer through clinical trials.
JHSIMC brings the most up-to-date therapy and new technology to patients with cancer by working in collaboration with local researchers from the National University of Singapore and National University Hospital. JHSIMC also organizes symposiums for the medical community to spark research ideas and exchange experiences.
Over in Malaysia, as part of an agreement signed in November 2010, experts from Johns Hopkins are helping to create the Perdana University Graduate School of Medicine, the country’s first four-year graduate medical program, as well as Perdana University Hospital, a 600-bed facility that will serve as its first fully integrated private teaching hospital.
We will help plan all major aspects of the enterprise, including the design of the medical school and hospital, clinical affairs and research programs. It is a historic opportunity for Johns Hopkins, as for the first time, it will provide its respected model of medical education outside of Baltimore.
The new medical school will follow Hopkins’ Genes to Society curriculum, a course of study that aims to train doctors to deliver individualized medicine. Using a patient-centered approach and innovative teaching methods, Genes to Society teaches students to understand all the levels of the human being: from the genes, molecules, cells, and organs of the patient, to the familial, community, societal and environmental components that also affect health.