Ode to a teacher

By Muhammad Ali Rao
Fri, 06, 18

Dow Medical College (DMC), now situated in Karachi, was first established in Hyderabad....


Dow Medical College (DMC), now situated in Karachi, was first established in Hyderabad, in undivided India as a small college. In December 1945, DMC was transferred from Hyderabad to Karachi, and occupied its new premises in November, 1946. So, at the time of partition, DMC was the only medical institution in Sindh, and it was attached to Civil Hospital. DMC played a pivotal role in providing qualified young doctors to the new country. One of its alumnus, Professor Shamsuddin Rahimtoola, went on to become a noted teacher and clinician of this great institution. To date, he remains a source of inspiration to many in the medical profession.

Shamsuddin Hoosenally Rahimtoola was born in Pune, British India, but his family migrated to Pakistan and settled in Karachi after partition. Dr Rahimtoola did his matriculation from BVS Parsi School. He did his intermediate, and BSc from DJ Science College in 1954 and 1957 respectively and then got admission in DMC. He completed his medical degree in 1962, and proceeded to University of Edinburgh for postgraduate studies. Dr Rahimtoola completed his study in tropical medicine and took membership of the Royal College whilst at Edinburgh, in 1965.

After he returned, he became actively associated with his alma mater, DMC, and the attached Civil Hospital initially as Senior Registrar. In 1972, he had become Associate Professor and was made Professor of Medicine in 1975. Professor Rahimtoola remained a popular and dynamic presence to students throughout his career, both at the tertiary hospital and the medical college. He was noted for his acute diagnostic skills, general cooperative attitude with staff and students. He also remained Principal of DMC for a brief period during the 1980s. Professor Saeed Qureshi, Vice Chancellor of Dow University paid glowing tribute to his former teacher: “He had high respect for peers and juniors alike and that defined his character at the campus. Sir was a top notch administrator and heading Sindh’s largest public sector hospital required great management qualities.”

Professor Tipu Sultan, former Principal of DMC stated: “Professor Rahimtoola was very popular amongst students and colleagues alike.”

Administratively, Professor Rahimtoola led by example and emphasised on patient care and punctuality. Having remained Medical Superintendent of the largest tertiary care hospital in the province, he well understood the intricacies associated with public service and quality health care delivery. The concept of medical ICU is also credited to him. Professor Khalid Mehmood of DUHS commented: “Professor Rahimtoola believed everyone, no matter what social class they belonged to, deserved good healthcare. His wards were always well-equipped and meticulously clean. He did not tolerate incompetence at any level and personally put forward his best.”

Professor Rahimtoola’s unconventional style of teaching was praise worthy. Prof Anwar Naqvi vouchsafed: “Sir’s teaching skills were a little unorthodox. To him, good history taking was central to imparting knowledge to the trainee. It was because of these qualities young medical peers would often seize opportunity to be part of the learning experience during his rounds.”

Many young doctors in the making complain that most senior doctors insult student doctors during the rounds, Professor Rahimtoola was always friendly with his students. In this regard, Professor Wasim Jafri of the AKU shared: “Professor Rahimtoola was my mentor. As a student, our ward rounds were so informative that it was a delight to prepare for them and present cases to him. The amazing thing was the respect we were given as young colleagues.”

Professor Rahimtoola’s doors were always open for students, patients, and even their relatives. Dr Shershah Syed attested: “People - including medical students, and at times their relatives - would come and discuss their problems frequently with him.” These associations with colleagues would normally culminate in dinner parties hosted at Professor Rahimtoola’s residence and this was specifically true for house officers and passing out batches. “Away from official duties, Sir was a humane person who loved playing host to friends and colleagues alike. This also served as morale booster, specifically for students. His penchant for lavish meals was well known to most in the profession,” remarked Prof Saeed Qureshi.

Professor Rahimtoola remained Professor of Medicine for over two decades and was known to be an institution in the field of Internal Medicine. Among his achievements was passing his MRCP on the first attempt and receiving ‘Greig Medal’ for the study of Tropical Medicine that he received in Edinburgh; a feat achieved by few South Asians. Grant Butters, Archivist at the University of Edinburgh, added: “Greig Medal was only conferred on individuals having achieved certain level of distinction; no medal was awarded in the year if standard attained was not adequate.” Dr Rahimtoola was also elected as fellow (FRCP) to the Royal College of Physicians, Edinburgh in 1987. The Dow University in 2013 bestowed the ‘Lifetime Achievement Award’ on him for his unending and continued support to the institution over the years.

Professor Rahimtoola’s demise in October of 2016 left a void for many of his juniors who could always count on their professor for advice, guidance and mentoring. Established senior lecturers, administrators and practitioners from across the city paid tributes at the condolence meet held at the Arag Auditorium of Dow University to mark his death. Professor Sarwar Siddiqui summarized the emotions on the occasion thus: ‘Rahimtoola Sahib was a teacher of teachers, mentor of mentors and true role model for generations of doctors to come.”

In recognition of his selfless services to DMC, the digital library at the Dow University of Health Sciences was officially named after Professor Shamsuddin Rahimtoola. The university has plans to name different sections of the campus after its former teachers. The digital library is located at the main city campus of the DUHS and has been developed keeping in mind the interactivity to be developed with other HEC institutions along with international centres of research and publications.

Professor Rahimtoola belonged to talented line of individuals who had remained politically and professionally active in British India and later in independent India and Pakistan. His brother Dr Shahabuddin Rahimtoola, also a Dow grad is a cardiologist of world fame. The American College of Cardiology (ACC) has given its 2013 Lifetime Achievement Award to Shahbudin Rahimtoola, a USC Distinguished Professor and George C. Griffith Professor of Cardiology at the Keck School of Medicine of USC.