We lost an institution builder

Dr. Naseer was not just a doctor. He was someone whose contribution we will always remember through the institutions he built

Dr.Rumana Makhdoomi
Srinagar, Publish Date: Oct 23 2017 10:49PM | Updated Date: Oct 23 2017 10:49PM
We lost an institution builder

This is an obituary I did not want to write. This is a life I wanted to talk about, know more about and write not just a gist but an entire book. Dr. Syed Naseer Ahmad Shah’s  contribution to healthcare and medical education in Kashmir is unparalleled. As a medical student in 90s at Government Medical College, Srinagar (GMC) I always heard my teachers talk about the “Golden Era” of GMC and by this they meant the period when the college was headed by  Dr. Naseer. It was an era when GMC Srinagar was living its youthful years and aiming for a top slot at the national level. It was an era of excellence and achievement, an era of competitiveness and growth, an era when science was replacing superstition and an era when life was reverberating through medical college. To the college he brought glory, to the patients he brought relief and to the dull and depressed medicos shrunken under the burden of books and skeletons he brought a life of ease. To the demanding life of a medical student he added the fuel of sports and the humor of cultural activities taking care not to compromise his efficiency as a doctor. “Medicine was never so interesting” all those lucky ones who graduated from GMC Srinagar during its “Golden Era” will tell you.

I was not lucky to be his student nor lucky enough to be his patient but would watch him from a distance and hear his words of wisdom when he would come to attend various functions at GMC or SKIMS. A crowd would rosette around him, hugging him shaking hands with him and kissing him. When walking through the lanes of SMHS he would stop to receive young and old with warmth and compassion even when he had ceased to be their boss. I heard him many times addressing doctors, talking about his life, his passion for medicine and his concern for this community- Of course the longest serving principal of GMC which produced stalwarts of medicine manning institutions of repute throughout the world had a lot to talk about. And we had a lot to learn.

For someone interested in collecting profiles of outstanding Kashmiri doctors, I was desperate to meet this legend. I managed an appointment with him and his equally impressive life partner Dr. Girja Dhar almost a year back through Prof Azra Shah, his niece. As I met this wonderful couple in the beautiful lawns of their home-I could sense an encyclopedia unfold. My memory and my pen were not able to keep a pace with all that he had to tell. He told his story his own way-humorously and forcefully. He traced his journey from his birth to his tumultuous life as a medical student getting trapped on the other side of border when India was partitioned while he was studying at King Edward Medical College, Lahore. Longing for his home he came back to Kashmir trying to earn his livelihood as a doctor. From here he went on to UK. His fascinating account of his years in London would leave you wonderstruck. 

And the beautiful part of his life was (as he recounted) his journey back home –serving  his community as an able and efficient doctor. If UK attracts our doctors now, how much attractive it would it have been more 50-years ago? But, he and his wife chose Kashmir, its patients, its pain and involved themselves not only in caring for its sick but building institutions where future generations of doctors were trained. He talked to me about his initial years of clinical practice, his years of struggle in his Drugjan clinic and his success in replacing unscientific with scientific, replacing vague with definite and despair with hope. He talked to me about how he performed an ascitic tap on a distressed cirrhotic patient in his clinic, diagnosed an unsuspected myocardial infarction and treated medical emergencies with success.

Dr. Naseer took over as the Principal of Govt. Medical College, Srinagar in 1969 and continued to be the Principal till 1981. His administrative skills aside, he was a visionary who added post graduation in almost all disciplines and used his personal influence to get MCI recognition for many departments. The state needs to be grateful to this gentleman because GMC Srinagar  not only produced specialists for the entire state but his efforts turned GMC into a unique institution where leaders for world’s famous institutions were being churned out. It was his vision to have medicine specialized and diversified and to have a network of hospitals around GMC. This dream was realized with time. For the poor and needy of rural areas he brought the healthcare near their doorstep by starting Chitranjan Mobile clinic.

What made Naseer Sahib unique was his student friendly attitude. When I asked him-“Why were you so popular amongst students?” he remarked,  “I looked into their individual and collective problems and tried my best to sort them out. My doors were always open for them and I remembered most of them by their names” .His students remember him as a generous soft spoken fatherly figure who would go out of way to help them.

When Medicine is losing its charm, when money and medicine are synonymous we need the likes of Prof. Naseer  to reassure us about the greatness of our mission, the purpose of our lives and the importance of our patients  on whose prayers and faith we thrive. We need the likes of Prof. Naseer  to make us feel proud of our profession.

 In a span of less than a month we have lost two great physicians who have done a great deal for the patients and institutions of the valley namely Prof. Mehrajuddin Munshi and Prof. Naseer Ahmad Shah-Besides medicine they loved their motherland and chose to return here to serve it… This is the spirit which the present generation of doctors has to inculcate!

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