Early doctors of Independent India


“Stories make us, and we make stories…”

We are amidst celebrating Amrit Mahotsav, marking 75 years of our nation’s independence and self-governance. The strong, thriving, populous republic of ours owes everything it can boast of today to the sacrifices made by our freedom fighters and the struggles that had to be overcome by the pioneers of early independent India. Theirs was the generation of unlimited opportunities that had to be realized with limited means, and their life stories offer a perspective on how far we have come and what it took to get here.

Formalization of medical education in British India took its roots in the early 19th century with the intent of producing medical assistants and servants for western officers of the East India Company under the umbrella of the Indian Medical Service. The Orientalists amongst the governing medical officers initiated native medical institutes in Calcutta and Bombay constituencies to provide parallel instructions in western medical sciences along with indigenous medical systems of Ayurveda and Unani. Successful native graduates were given government jobs.

However, detailed medical training including instructions in practical anatomy were denied to Indian students who were trained for the posts of assistants and supporting staff such as apothecaries, compounders and dressers. The committee headed by Dr. John Grant called for complete medical training of Indian nationals to meet the growing healthcare needs. Thus, the first “Native Doctors,” as they were called then, were trained for a period of 4-6 years, and absorbed into the public services with a monthly salary of Rs. 30. However, training in indigenous practices was abolished during this time

The humanist policy of Sir Robert Grant aided by the philanthropic patronage of Sir Jamsetjee Jeejebhoy saw the establishment of a new general hospital (now known as Sir J. J. Hospital in Mumbai) and Grant Government Medical College.

As Nationalist movements gathered momentum, Ayurveda and other indigenous branches of medicine were also revived. The demand for swaraj and institutions with all-Indian faculty saw the establishment of institutes like Topiwala Nair Medical College and Seth G. S. Medical College in Mumbai, among others.

The Checkup Magazine  has endeavored to bring forth stories of these senior medical practitioners who were early medical graduates of these medical institutions and were instrumental in shaping the medical field of our nation. Keep reading to learn more about them…


My Journey in the Medical Profession – Dr. Sulabha Ranade

The Checkup Magazine checked in with Dr. (Mrs) Sulabha Ranade, who boasts of a medical career spanning over half a century as a physician to countless families of suburban Mumbai. Through her life, she has seen our nation achieve independence and our profession evolve into what it is today.

Dr. (Mrs.) Sulabha Vishnu Ranade, (Nee: Deodhar)


Residence: 203, Saiprasad, Jayprakash Nagar Road No 3, Goregaon (E) Mumbai 400063

Mob: 9821866958

Please tell us about your childhood and how it shaped your future as a doctor.
After 50 years in the medical profession, I am trying to recollect the events in my journey into the medical field. I was born in 1941 in a middle-class family and was raised by my parents, along with three sisters and two younger brothers in a one-room & kitchen block in a Girgaon chawl in Mumbai. My father was an insurance agent. I received my primary education in a municipal school without incurring any academic expenditures. For secondary education, I studied at Sharada Sadan Girls High School where I received a high school scholarship, thereby, saving any expenditure for my secondary education, too. My college education in Sidharth College of Arts & Science was inexpensive as well, with me being eligible for scholarship upon securing 70% in SSC. Renowned professors like. Prof. Madhu Dandavate (Physics), Prof. Ramesh Tendulkar and Anant Kanekar (Marathi), Prof. Apsangikar (Zoology) were great mentors and motivators in my education.

I passed my Inter-Science (old branch) examinations with good scores with physics, chemistry & biology as my main subjects (Group B). In those days, students who had elected Group A subjects (including mathematics) were mostly boys and would prefer engineering courses due to early job opportunities. After the Inter-Science results, I had to decide my higher education. My father was suffering from bronchial asthma at that point. His sufferings and frequent visits to doctors made an impact on me; I decided to pursue medicine to become a doctor. I considered the medical profession very noble and helpful to my family, relatives and society. With my academic record, I was eligible for walk-in admission in the prestigious college, Seth G. S. Medical College in Parel, Mumbai.

How did you secure entrance in the medical field in those times? Please describe your journey thereafter.
In my days, admissions to professional courses were based on one’s scores in Inter-Science. Students from colleges affiliated to the jurisdiction of Mumbai University only were eligible for admission. About 40% of the students in our class were girls, and 60% were boys.
There were 3 examinations in MBBS Course conducted over a period of 4.5 years:

  • The first year in MBBS for 1½ years included the subjects anatomy, physiology & biochemistry
  • The second year in MBBS included pharmacology, pathology and jurisprudence covered over next 1½ years
  • The third or final MBBS examination for another 1½ years covered medicine, surgery and gynaecology

The subjects of ENT and ophthalmology were included in surgery, and paediatrics was included in medicine. I passed my final MBBS examinations in November of 1964, followed by internship for one year.

KEM hospital of Bombay was attached to our college. Renowned professors/honoraries like Dr. B. N. Purandare, Dr. J. K. Mehta, Dr. Golwala, Dr. R. H. Karmarkar, Dr. P. K. Sen, Dr. A. K. Talvalkar, Dr. Ajit Phadke and Dr. U. K. Sheth were our teachers in KEM hospital. Being a BMC hospital that offered treatment free of cost or at nominal charges, huge numbers of patients were available at our clinics for examination. Our bedside clinics gave us a very rich clinical experience. Superb clinical training in our hospital bedside clinics made us more confident doctors in our profession.

After your medical education, how was it venturing into practice as a fully-qualified doctor?
After completion of my internship in November of 1965, I got a job as Medical Officer in a municipal dispensary in December of 1965; I was posted in Worli. There used to be more patients suffering from tuberculosis. The only treatment available was streptomycin injection course. In our dispensary, there used to be a long queue of patients waiting for injection as the treatment was free of cost. After this, our OPD patients were examined.
My family, relatives & neighbours were delighted to witness my work as the first doctor in the family. I was now able to really serve my family and society. I always considered my profession as noble and obliging. I understood the meaning behind the saying, “Service to man is service to God”. In my first posting, it was a great challenge to treat patients independently. Our municipal pharmacy provided all the drugs for free, and very rarely did we have to prescribe certain medicines from private pharmacists.

How was balancing the medical profession with family life as a woman in those days?
After one year in my job, I got married to Dr. V.V. Ranade who was a veterinarian, and subsequently, Professor of Pharmacology. Now, I had to manage my family along with my job. We were blessed with a son and a daughter. My responsibility had exponentially increased. I had to manage their education, too. As my clinic used to be open from 9AM to 4PM, I could devote time in the evening to my family. Over the course of 15 years of my municipal job, I completed two diplomas – DGO & DFP from College of Physicians & Surgeons of Mumbai in Parel.
After serving the BMC for 15 years, I was well-settled as both my children were quite old. I decided to open my own clinic in Goregaon. I started my private clinic in 1981 after resigning from my BMC job without any pensionary benefits.

How was private practice in comparison to the previous institutional job?
In private clinic, the responsibilities to the patients increased. Doctors had to do a complete follow-up of patients with necessary investigations. The concept of a family physician was prevalent and very important as patients were totally dependent on his/her advice. In government or institutional jobs, the option of referring patients to a hospital reduced one’s responsibility. In private clinics, the patients are well-connected with the family physician emotionally, as well. They consider their doctor equivalent to God.

After devoting such a long time to medical practice, would you say that private practice has changed over the years?
The picture of doctor-patient relationship is changing. The patient has a choice to go to the respective specialist without his family doctor’s advice. Nowadays, medical graduates struggle for postgraduate studies rather than devoting their time and knowledge as family physicians (GP). Due to this change, there is acute shortage for family physicians. A family physician is well-connected with the patient and knows his/her full medical history.

How would you compare the change in the admission process in the field of medicine?
From 1980, many private medical colleges have begun to accommodate more medical aspirants at higher education costs. Since the last 8 to 10 years, merit performance NEET is required for admission to any medical courses in government or private colleges as well as for postgraduate admissions. Competition for admission has become tough. My children also had to partake in this rat race. My son, Dr. Shailesh is now a plastic surgeon, and is attached to reputed hospitals in Mumbai. My daughter, Dr. Saroj is consultant homeopath. Two of my three granddaughters are medical graduates, and one is an architect.

What interests apart from medicine do you nurture?
While in medical practice, I have also harboured my hobbies like painting, poetry, writing, travelling, attending religious functions, yogic exercises, social activities, and medical camps. I have great faith in my Adhyatmik Guru, Shri Gondavlekar Maharaj. My husband, Dr. Vishnu Ranade is also fond of music. He sings classical songs. I anchor his musical programs like Geet Ramayan in Marathi and Hindi in India and abroad viz USA, Australia, New Zealand, Dubai, etc. We also perform in programmes of Bhagavad Gita, Swami Vivekananda, Dasbodh, etc. We have been performing Marathi Geet Ramayan in Masurashram at Goregaon, Mumbai on Ramnavami for the past 25 years.
In all these programmes, we both do not take any honorariums, and we offer our service as Shriram seva which gives us pleasure and peace. Music programmes give us mental satisfaction and work as stressbusters. With God’s blessings and best wishes from our friends, we are enjoying good health and mobility at age 80+. Fortunately, my son, Shailesh has inherited our predilections for music and paintings. My daughter-in-law, Sharmila is liver transplant anaesthetist and a good singer herself.

We have a great passion for travelling in India as well as abroad. As my husband was a pharmacologist, we had the opportunity to visit Japan to attend the International Conference of Pharmacology and Toxicology in Tokyo in 1986. On our way back, we visited Bangkok, Singapore and Hong Kong. We were fortunate to visit France through the East-West Cultural Association in a group of 30 people as part of a cultural exchange programme in 1989. We stayed with French host families in Paris and Normandy for 28 days. French people used to arrange get-togethers with Indian and French cultural programmes. On our way back, we could use the Eurail facility to visit many European countries. In exchange programmes to India, we used to host French guests for a few days during their visit to India. We enjoyed touring the USA, Australia, New Zealand, Mauritius & Dubai. We have visited most tourist places in India on different occasions, including Char Dham and Vaishno Devi.

What advice do you have for our generation of Medical Practitioners?
The medical profession is a highly respected & noble profession all over the world. I wish to advise the younger generations to work hard for their profession, and also to participate in extra-curricular activities to keep themselves physically & mentally fit. In the Covid-19 pandemic, medical people were considered great warriors.

My best wishes to all.




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About the author

Dr. Sai Surve-Rane is a Consulting Periodontist practicing in Sindhudurg, a regular medical writer, and an occasional poet. She has to her credit, multiple clinical studies published in peer reviewed journals, few poems and short stories published in various anthologies. Her first poetry compilation Just Another Wave, published in 2021, was well received.