From about 1995, I travelled to Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Kota Kinabalu to deliver post-graduate lectures and conduct post-graduate classes for candidates preparing for the Royal College Of Physician exams.
During these visits, I established a close friendship with Datuk Dr Jayaram Menon, the Head of Medicine. I witnessed the growth of the department. Jayaram also built a fantastic gastroenterology department and trained many post-graduates in this field.
In retrospect, besides my work at Univer-siti Hospital, I would consider my trips to East Malaysia the most important in my work as a medical teacher.
I am proud to say that Jayaram and I share many similarities. Our families have been good friends since the days of our grandfathers. We were both born in Muar – Jayaram, five years and 22 days after me. We went to the same medical school – the Faculty of Medicine, Universiti Malaya in Kuala Lumpur. Both Jayaram and I love to teach. I have to admit that the similarities end there. Whereas I ran away from Kota Kinabalu, Jayaram went to Kota Kinabalu and stayed on to build one of the best medical departments in the country almost single-handedly.
Posted to Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Sabah as Head of Department and Sabah State Physician in 1990, Datuk Jayaram revamped the department, placing great emphasis on teaching and training; this attracted more than 75 physicians and 20 gastroenterologists to come and train in his unit.
I noted with great pride that because of his charisma and teaching skills, Jayaram’s unit surpassed in popularity even the most established gastroenterology units in the Peninsula.
Jayaram was honoured with the Fellowship of the Royal College of Physicians Edinburgh in 1998 and London in 2004. He was appointed Chief of Gastroenterology services and Chairman of the Gastroenterology training programme, Health Ministry, serving from 2002–2014.
Jayaram is responsible for developing and maintaining the standards of the current Gastroenterology training programme of the Health Ministry. In 2009, Jayaram pioneered the post-basic gastrointestinal assistant training programme – a first in South-East Asia. The amount of energy, effort and enthusiasm this man has singularly poured into making Queen Elizabeth Hospital a centre of excellence in gastroenterology teaching, training and treatment – recognised internationally – leave one breathless.
Because of Jayaram’s prodding and cajoling, from 2005 I made about 10 trips to Sabah to help him run his post-graduate teaching programmes. I had gone into private practice that year, after being with Universiti Hospital for about 17 years.
Jayaram’s typical invitation would start with: “Chief, time to stop the cash register for a while and do national service and teach young doctors to prepare for postgraduate exams…”.
And I did just that, over a period of 22 years. It lifted me professionally, emotionally and academically. I always loved clinical signs and Queens never failed to impress and excite – there was so much interesting pathology to see.
I participated in teaching young, intelligent and enthusiastic doctors and helped them prepare for the next stage in their lives and in their contribution to medicine. It felt so good, and was like being back in university. I cannot thank Dr Jayaram enough for creating the opportunity and the memories!
When I first came to Sabah, the person who opened the lecture room door early in the morning and fiddled with the PA system was Jayaram and his colleague Dr Pany. There were very few other physicians. Jayaram was General Physician, cardiologist, neurologist, nephrologist – you name it, he was it.
Then the years passed. His boys and girls passed their post-graduate exams and he arranged for their specialised training. During my subsequent visits, I was introduced to cardiologists, neurologists, nephrologists. I saw the department grow. Jayaram’s efforts were bearing fruit. His students stepped in and took over his work – the baton was being passed – and Jayaram’s legacy would continue.
In my book, there are many noble professions in this world. Medicine and teaching, if practised properly, are among the most noble of these.
Professor T.J. Danaraj, who was foundation dean of the University Malaya Medical Centre – and one of my role models and life heroes – had this to say: “Medicine, to which we are devoted, is a special calling and a privilege granted to us by society. It is a glorious opportunity to enjoy work that is forever intellectually stimulating and emotionally satisfying yet providing social status and reasonable financial rewards.”
About teaching, the late president of India, the highly accomplished Dr Abdul Kalam, had this to say: “Teaching is a very noble profession that shapes the character, calibre and future of an individual.” At some point in our careers, all of us as doctors become teachers to varying degrees – the epitome of the evolution of this fusion are people like Jayaram Menon.
If one chooses medicine with the primary purpose of monetary gain at the expense of one’s patient, then that doctor would be no different from a common thief – and medicine would no longer be a noble profession. We thus need people of passion, integrity and honesty, like Jayaram Menon, to cultivate a love for the profession and instil life-long values and guilt systems in us to do the right, honest and correct thing for the patient, based on scientific fact and not the demands of our greed.
In my speech at Dr Jayaram’s farewell (when he reached retirement age and had to leave Queen E Hospital), I said, had Professor Danaraj been alive, he would have been immensely proud of Jayaram. Jayaram was among the best he planned to produce when he built the medical school.
I have wished for Jayaram that God give him many more good years of health and happiness to enjoy life with his family and friends, and to continue to contribute to our profession and country.