COMMENT: New leadership for KEMU and PIC —Dr Syed Mansoor Hussain - Monday, July 12, 2010

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It is important for the government to decide whether it wants to change how things are being done at PIC or wants to continue business as usual. An attempt should be made to restore some credibility to KEMU’s status as the oldest and (once) the best medical institution in Pakistan

The government of Punjab has a lot on its plate at this time. The Data Darbar attacks and its fallout were bad enough and now comes the bizarre resolution by the Punjab Assembly in defence of its members that were elected with fake degrees. But then life goes on and other matters have to be addressed.

From my perspective as a physician, an alumnus of the King Edward Medical College, now a university, and as a cardiac surgeon, there are two imminent changes in the medical hierarchy in Lahore institutions that merit some discussion. The first one is the upcoming retirement of the present Vice Chancellor (VC) of the King Edward Medical University (KEMU) and the second is the retirement of the chief executive of the Punjab Institute of Cardiology (PIC).

Before I proceed, a recent observation by a physician in Sindh is worth considering. He wondered why an 80-year-old politician could run a province but a 60-year-old doctor has to retire and is no longer thought of as capable of running anything worthwhile. There is some truth to the question thus posed. But then laws are only for the governed in this land of the pure.

Not the time to talk of such important matters so let me return from the sublime to the mundane and talk first of the impending retirement of the VC of KEMU. The incumbent will retire in a month or so after reaching the age of 60. Why he cannot continue is a matter that can be argued based on performance but age should not be a determining consideration since the VC position allows the incumbent to continue for another five years. But in the present case there is another factor that also needs to be considered.

This year the KEMU is celebrating its 150 years as a medical institution. This is indeed an important milestone in the history of King Edward (KE). The present VC, a Kemcolian himself who has spent many years as member of the KE teaching staff, will be forced to exit just a few months before the grand finale of the celebrations. In December, KE graduates from all over the world and the Association of Pakistani Physicians of North America (APPNA) will be coming over to KE to join in the celebrations.

So in all fairness I strongly recommend that the present VC of KEMU should at least be allowed to continue in his position until the end of this year. After all, the celebrations were started under his leadership and it seems fair that he should be allowed to stay on and see them through. That should only be a few months anyway.

From an overall perspective, I must admit that the KEMU is not doing very well. Perhaps one reason is that the present government of Punjab is not very sympathetic towards the university and did try earlier on to revert KEMU back to being just a medical college. This lack of support from the government and the resultant financial and political constraints have prevented KEMU from hiring proper faculty or developing its teaching departments to a university level.

The new head of the university should bring certain important qualifications to the job, and being the seniormost member of the faculty is not one of them in my opinion. What is needed is experience of having run a major medical institution, the political capability of bridging the existing ‘distance’ between the Punjab government and the institution and the capability of raising independent funds to improve the university’s financial condition.

The other appointment in the offing is that of a new head of PIC. As the chief executive as well as the chief surgeon, the present head of PIC is not only the functioning director of medical services but also the chief administrator. This concentrates too much authority in the hands of a single individual and perhaps most ordinary mortals might not be able to handle both of these responsibilities well enough.

At this time PIC is the largest publicly owned and run cardiac centre in Punjab. It performs more heart operations and cardiac procedures than any other hospital in Lahore and has the potential to become even busier. However, it never became the powerhouse of academics, research or innovations that it could have. Sadly, over the years it has as an institution become focused almost entirely on private practice.

What is needed from a new head of this institution is that he or she should make medical education, research and advanced medical care the new priorities and pay greater attention to the indigent and poor patients that come to PIC seeking help. About the latter, it is important to understand that a waiting time of a year or more for any cardiac patient is very often nothing but a death sentence.

The question that then comes up will of course be whether such a person is available. It is important for the government to decide whether it wants to change how things are being done at PIC or wants to continue business as usual. If indeed the decision is to change things, then an appropriate person can always be found. But then it might also not be a bad idea to separate the medical from the administrative responsibilities so that the head of medical affairs can concentrate on patient care, medical education and academic matters.

Finally, as far as KEMU is concerned it is a marquee name in the history of medical education. An attempt should be made to restore some credibility to its status as the oldest and (once) the best medical institution in Pakistan. That is the least it deserves. About PIC, all I can say is that it will not be easy to change how it works but a determined effort to redirect its priorities is definitely worthwhile.

Syed Mansoor Hussain has practised and taught medicine in the US. He can be reached at

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