SKIMS: From Fantasy to Facility

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Sher-I-Kashmir Institute of Medical Sciences (SKIMS) is the key institution and lifeline of the people of Jammu and Kashmir. It is the solitary medical university of the union territory of J&K which has an affiliated medical college and hospital on the city outskirts, at Bemina. SKIMS was envisaged as a tertiary care institute of excellence in health care and medical research. The institute comprises a host of specialties and subspecialties which have demonstrated their mettle at various national and international forums.

Every year the Institute celebrates 5th  December as its foundation day that coincides with the birthday of Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah,the political icon of Kashmir, who is acknowledged as the founder of this institute. This is the day to revisit the dream of the conceiver of this eminent institution. Before its inception, people had to travel outside the valley for the treatment of diverse diseases and disorders, which meant a lot of suffering, adversity and discomfort with financial implications. Sheikh Sahib realized the exigency and significance of such a dream institution for the people who would otherwise turn to other institutions in the country. So SKIMS was conceived with the philosophy that “there shall be no obligation for next Kashmiri patient requiring the tertiary care to move out, as the same sophisticated and modern therapy to all such complex diseases will be delivered at his doorstep”. Add on to this -with the organization of this prodigious project, the Visionary had aimed at the long foreseen conviction of popularizing the concept of ‘Medical Tourism’ that could lead to fiscal amelioration of the local folks too. This realization of the fantasy into the real state of art ‘Medical City’ along with the inception of ‘Medical Tourism Industry’ remains to be fulfilled.

The actual conceptualization of this dream project took place in 1975 under the skilled leadership of Sher-I-Kashmir. Preceding the actual implementation, a multitude of top medical intellects (native as well as overseas) debated at large regarding the establishment and functioning of this huge institutional structure. These policies and operational strategies formed the cornerstone of this undertaking, and the design and the proposal of SKIMS was born. The concoction commenced in the year 1976. The immense contribution of the people from all walks of life towards the establishment of this institution remained exceptional. Eventually, the dream was realized on 5th of December 1982 (with partial commissioning of the institute) when SKIMS was dedicated to the ‘People of Jammu and Kashmir’. This marked an epoch in the history . So every year this day is commemorated by the SKIMS family as the Foundation Day. Indeed it’s a moment of contentment that, SKIMS as it stands today, is contributing positively in alleviating the agony and pain that people live through when confronted with serious maladies. What can be more gratifying than to appreciate the less fortunate getting relief and comfort through the best possible treatment furnished in their own homeland?

SKIMS is a national asset, a cynosure of excellence and a tertiary care establishment of repute in the country and abroad. It is a focus of considerable public significance, committed to dispensing quality patient care to the masses. Advancing steadily, it has triumphantly contributed to the health care needs of the people delivering decades of incessant multimodal amenities to the community. Ever since the kick-off,close to about four decades ago, devotion and dedication to patient care have not burnt out through these years but has become more and more firm and unyielding over time. It is currently endorsed as a premier super-specialty patient care centre as well as a medical school devoted to academics and research. It has rendered mammoth services to the people despite the turmoil and recent upheavals in the valley. This has solidified the faith in the organization and substantiated its power and potential to come out victorious vanquishing all illnesses and miseries under any condition. It has, beyond doubt, enhanced the prestige of the institute on one hand, and the behest the demand for services on the other.

For a common man SKIMS comprises of care providers in the form of doctors, nurses, and lab personnel performing various medical investigations. This premier institution has 5000+ employees functioning for it and incorporates more than 50 operational departments. However, besides being a hospital and a research/academic centre; it is far beyond the faculty and paramedical personnel. It is a huge concern that needs multiple subsidiary sections/units to manage. These ancillary wings include hospital engineering services, medical records, estates, finance, fire and security, etc. to name a few.

Though principally contemplated as a tertiary care referral hospital, SKIMS is presently committed to offering quality care facilities to all patients (accidents and emergency/ routine/elective; acute/chronic; minor ailments/major life-threatening conditions) associated with sundry fields of all specialities. The paucity of commensurate peripheral health care set-up has put an immense burden on SKIMS. As a reverberation, it is inciting a tremendous rush of patients steadily enhancing with time and again. With the result, it has metamorphosed into the UT’s most crowded hospital catering/caring to about 30,000 emergency and 70,000 routine/ elective patients annually. But with growing demand, it may be practicable that the standard of care may lose its weight without proportionate inflation of resources, infrastructure and manpower. The argument linking quantity and quality is well-grounded today; nevertheless, we have to strike a balance. What all need to be done is preserving and upholding the quality care while managing the figures. Despite the existing limitations, SKIMS is striving hard to extend standard medical care to the needy. To cater to demand with the installation of various sophisticated services or allied infrastructure, suggestions are coming forth for private-public partnership in achieving affordable and sustainable health care system. So here also we can come up with the recommendations in designing prototypes for the same. However, this may in part lead to the defeat of the ‘basic concept of SKIMS’ established as a ‘free for service facility’, making it rather a ‘pay for service order’!

Besides tertiary care, SKIMS is reaching out to the people of certain areas by providing comprehensive health services, and teachings about public health and prevention through its urban and rural health programs. Many hard to reach zones and vulnerable population is benefitted through outreach camps being organized from time to time.  Implementation of the various national programs is being done with great fervor. The urban health centre at SKIMS provides services in the form immunization, family planning, growth monitoring, ophthalmic and dentistry services, counting a few. This aids to augment the healthcare delivery system, thus, fulfilling the aspirations of the people and expanding the horizons of care delivery.

SKIMS has displayed exponential development in all spheres, be it patient care, training or academic research. It has a notable endowment in research activities in all clinical, para clinical and nonclinical streams. Sustaining a steady benchmark, it has qualified as a globally recognized school of research. ‘Need-based’ as well as what is referred to as ‘patient-centred research’ projects have emphatically acquired space in reputed national & international journals with high impact factor. Not to mention, over the years it has produced a galaxy of role models research workers and scientists whose offerings hold a hallmark in medical research.

Over and above, SKIMS has upheld the legacy of publishing its own journal- Journal of Medical Sciences (JMS) since 1988. JMS has established itself as one of the outstanding medical journals released from northern India. The journal publishes in all categories of medical research work, together with invited articles/editorials from the doyens in varied specialties (native and abroad). It gives a proud pleasure to mention that JMS is getting a share of published work not only from India but from overseas too. It has a very competent editorial as well as the advisory board.

With continuous prompt advances in medical practice, SKIMS is keeping pace akin with evolution by continuously introducing upcoming technology. Institute has consistently set the seal on up-gradation of skills and continuous medical education of its human resources by conducting workshops, conferences, guest lectures, talks, etc. encompassing various realms of clinical significance and thereby earmarking the specific fields which require readdressing and revisiting for the eventual attainment of world-class therapy at the doorstep. With the diversification of general specialities, the future focus is on quality care of the highest order with particular emphasis on management of more complex cases and treatment of rare disorders. So conventional skills and techniques are being increasingly replaced by more sophisticated ones that require the utmost level of precision. This has enabled us (despite limited resources at hand) to offer comprehensive services to our patient population.Major organ transplants like liver, pancreas, intestine, heart and lung (renal and bone marrow transplants are already going on since long), as well as robotic assisted surgeries, are likely to be started in near future. The molecular and genetic basis of various disorders along with genetic counselling for various diseases is being offered here. Adding one more feather to cap, just past week we met another breakthrough by accomplishing allogenic stem cell/bone marrow transplant on a 16 years old boy suffering from severe aplastic anemia.

In the year1983, Sher-I-Kashmir Institute of Medical Sciences was granted a Deemed University status. It is noteworthy that the institute has been serving as an industry for the production of highly qualified doctors, nurses, and paramedical personnel. Over the years, it has maintained its highest calibre and impeccable heritage of bestowing the world-class health education and training to doctors in various disciplines, besides tutoring and training paramedics and laboratory personnel. It is furnishing education and training at various levels that encompass undergraduates, postgraduates, doctoral, postdoctoral with fellowships and diploma courses in various specialities of medicine/surgery and allied, and paramedical sciences, medical technology, nursing education, and so forth, thus, contributing remarkably in massive human resource development and capacity building. All of these academic courses and streams are duly recognized by the Medical Council of India. As a gratifying moment, a great many scholars of this medical university are now working as certified caregivers in various countries discharging immense responsibilities and undertakings and bringing laurels to this institution.

Institute has an eminent and lettered faculty which has contributed immensely in providing specialized patient care. Moreover, the faculty and other professional manpower are demonstrating brilliance in academics and research. To keep abreast with recent advancements, attending conferences, workshops, continuous medical education programmes as well as public awareness programmes is a norm.The faculty is consistently delivering lectures, sharing chairs in scientific sessions as well as holding keynote deliberations in prestigious conferences within and outside the country. It is the perseverance of its faculty and other manpower which has earned the institute a leading national status. To complement the tradition of brilliance and a towering heritage, huge accountability reposes primarily on the faculty to explore the want of evidence-based medicine and at the same time compete for ongoing ‘bench to bedside’ research and innovation. Alongside the global healthy competition, this workforce of ours is forging ahead to hoist the status of SKIMS to that of a cardinal health care institute in India.

Creation of a positive working system sustained by cooperation and coordination is a norm for successful institutions all over the world; ours being no exception. This can be attained by mutual collaboration and cooperation, inter-and intra- departmental unison and administrative nurturing with confidence building. The institute comprises of hosts of specialities and super specialities whose selfless devotion and dedication has been time tested, especially during upheavals and disasters. In the near past, their mettle got best unravelled during long years of turmoil, ‘Uri earthquake of 1995’and ‘Flood Furry of 2014’ to name a few. Concurrently, in this COVID-19 Pandemic, we have exhibited our time-honored doctrine of perseverance, teamwork, commitment and diligence to defeat the ‘Enemy Invisible’. We have tried and indeed succeeded in striking the equilibrium while treating the virus-inflicted patients along with carrying out our usual tertiary care medical/surgical ventures. All this has been made possible through an organized structure which allows optimum interaction among the various lineages within the Institute. All of our varied departmental streams have leapt into the common arena to fight back, and this battle is still going on… with time and again manifold success stories getting unfolded!

Finally, this is the day when we should renew our commitment to our noble profession and for this noble cause. It is high time to acknowledge our gratitude to our patients and to our organization which offer us endless opportunities for our professional growth and development. I feel proud to declare that ‘SKIMS is never complacent and continue to evolve and improve. There is immense scope of expansion and growth so that it can be developed as an international level centre. Blending the warmth and compassion with their technical skills, we, the workforce of the Institute, are trying our level best to serve the people. We shoulder the responsibilities with utmost passion and sincerity by developing and maintaining excellence in the quality of patient care, academics and research, and envisaging new programmes to meet the ever-expanding unique health needs of the remote, rural and urban population.

We are a more than a White Coat-a hue of unique spirit and goal to hail the sky as limit. So today let us celebrate HEALTH, WELLNESS and LIFE.

Dr Umar Farooq Baba is Associate Professor, Deptt. of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery, SKIMS, Soura.