“AII hail, Alma Mater, clear Mother, to thee,
Thy children true, faithful, and loyal will be.
Thy gentle instruction, thy nurturing care,
Will lead them to cherish things lovely and fair.
Thy loving protection, thy influence so sweet,
Will go with thee always, a guide to their feet.
AII hail, Alma Mater, dear Mother to thee,
Thy children true, faithful, and loyal will be.
Thy halls and arcades with their classic air,
Thy campus with blossom perennially fair.
Thy trees and thy fountain, thy vine-covered walls,
Will live in their memory whatever befalls.
Though far from thy care and protection they roam,
They still hold thee dear as a well-beloved home.
I hail, Alma Mater, clear Mother, to thee,
Thy children true, faithful, and loyal will be”
- Jennie Masters Tabb
This issue of the Indian Journal of Ophthalmology (IJO) is dedicated to Prof. Lalit Prakash Agarwal in the year of his birth centenary, and as a befitting cherry on the cake to the platinum volume of IJO. As we celebrate his life and times and get re-inspired by the ideals that he stood firmly and fought for, it may be appropriate to pay our gratitude to the Institution that he founded and nurtured as his life’s mission – Dr. Rajendra Prasad Centre for Ophthalmic Sciences (R. P. Centre), my Alma Mater.
R. P. Centre – Excellence at the Apex
The All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) was established as a medical institute of national importance by an act of parliament in 1956. It was the dream of the then Prime Minister Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru and was realized by the Health Minister Rajkumari Amrit Kaur. Prof. Agarwal was one of the several bright medical professionals that AIIMS attracted. He headed the newly formed Department of Ophthalmology in 1958. Drs. Madan Mohan and SRK Malik joined him as Assistant Professors in 1960. Thus, were sown the seeds of a National Institute of Ophthalmology, which Prof. Agarwal had envisioned to be an apex organization to spearhead subspecialty clinical care, training, research, and policy planning in Ophthalmology. The R. P. Centre came into being on March 10, 1967, solely due to the untiring efforts of Prof. Agarwal and his eagle-sharp 6/perfect foresight. The R. P. Centre has followed the trajectory prescribed by its founder and has grown by leaps and bounds. It is currently one of the largest ophthalmic clinical, training, and research facilities in the world, taking care of about 600,000 patient visits and 50,000 hospital admissions and surgeries a year, training over 180 junior and senior residents at a time, and excelling in research and publications.
My nurturer, the life-changer
I was a junior resident at R. P. Centre from 1989 to 1991 and thereafter a senior resident until 1995. These were the cusp years when Prof. Agarwal was no longer at the helm of affairs, but his set systems and teachings were practiced with divine passion and unfailing vigor. Some of the systems established by Prof. Agarwal unique to R. P. Centre at that time were – highly evolved specialty units each practicing an ophthalmic subspecialty; subspecialty clinics with a robust system of cross-referral; initial one-on-one clinic-based supervised training of the junior residents by the faculty, followed by independent out-patient clinics, with a set of junior resident clinics supervised by a senior resident; unrestricted access to instruments and equipment for clinical evaluation and investigations; early initiation of residents into surgical principles, wet-lab training, followed by supervised surgical training, and finally independent surgeries – not only cataract but basic surgeries across the specialties; vertical academic and functional groups composed of residents of all the semesters with a group leader and group-based teaching and learning; senior resident’s admission day evening rounds with a large teaching component; most-feared and very eventful ward rounds with intense practical bed-side teaching, which would easily go on for 4-5 hours, and that too twice a week; regular classes – well-curated grand rounds, journal clubs, seminars and symposia, all practiced-to-perfection and presented by the junior residents every week; opportunity to assist senior faculty at surgery, closely observe them and learn their surgical pearls; thesis protocol presentation and thesis presentation to an open house; initiation into research, podium presentations at national and international conferences and publications very early-on; Ophthalmic Research Association (ORA) and its academic, sports and cultural activities; 24/7 ORA library loaded with books and journals; and a prolonged but a thorough 3-day examination including live surgery as part of the examination. The work schedule at R. P. Centre was hectic but was a pleasure. Long discussions over endless cups of piping hot tea and the group parties were the stressbusters. The air at the R. P. Centre was so dense with the knowledge that it would percolate sufficiently even into the strong and resistant heads by the end of three years. The years spent at the R. P. Centre were indeed life-changing. I absolutely loved my time at R. P. Centre and treasure the memories with immense love, pride, and gratitude.
The deep impact
“I imagine that the young eagle who just learned to fly is soaring in the vast sky. It is the power and ability of the alma mater to make it fly” - Unknown
The impact that R. P. Centre has had on Indian Ophthalmology is deep and wide. Every major country in the world has R. P. Centre alumni in prominent positions. R. P. Centre alumni work at and lead many of the major ophthalmic institutions of India and have spread over every district in the country. Most of the R. P. Centre residents turn out to be capable and confident practitioners of the art and science of Ophthalmology and do well for themselves wherever they chose to settle down. R. P. Centre continues to spawn generations of astute clinicians, best of surgeons, consummate researchers, able administrators, and institution-builders. Residents carry back a bit of R. P. Centre in their heart and soul and in their DNA that keeps them bound to the basic principles that Prof. Agarwal preached and practiced. As the old saying goes, “one can take a resident out of R. P. Centre, but one can’t take R. P. Centre out of a resident”. Some of the R. P. Centre alumni have gone on to establish world-renowned institutes in India, and the common guiding factor seems to be the spirit and work ethic of Prof. Agarwal. Some are time-wrapped in Prof. Agarwal’s golden era what with 7 am classes, stress on punctuality with the lecture theater door closing at 7 am sharp, fairness in teaching and opportunities, unrestricted access to equipment, elaborate clinical and surgical training, dedicated mentoring, and primacy to merit.
What can the alumni do?
R. P. Centre unarguably has the largest alumni network in India and the region. Only 1-2% of alumni are lucky enough to stay back on the faculty of R. P. Centre, while the others spread out far and wide. The combined strength of the alumni outside the alma mater is thus gigantic, and it keeps growing every year. The need to positively engage the alumni in the activities of the alma mater is imperative to establish a sense of organizational identity and reciprocity. Alumni associations worldwide typically help formalize alumni engagements and channel their energy by conducting periodic scientific-social events and alumni reunions and cheer-lead the donation of time, talent, and treasure as tangible plow-back to the alma mater. They also come together for advocacy and to support their capable co-alumni professionally. The alumni may also be able to help systematically archive the glorious history of the evolution of the Institute and preserve it for posterity. It may be possible to engage the alumni and leverage their combined power better if the R. P. Centre alumni could come together to establish a democratically run formal alumni association.
Be good to medicine, and medicine will be good to you
“Let’s be good to medicine. Let’s aspire to the ideal of veritas, stay true to our age-old mission to heal and improve health, embrace the arts and humanities as a foundational element in the training of compassionate physicians, and recommit to achieving diversity and equity throughout the breadth of our profession. If we do these things, medicine will be good to us.” – M Roy Wilson
Prof. Agarwal taught us to be good to Ophthalmology – to deep-dive into it learn it with unbridled enthusiasm, perfect the art and science, practice it ethically and with passion by investing the best of the qualities of the head, heart, and hand, to be curious and delve into research to explore for newer or more effective treatment strategies or to simply answer an unanswered question, and to continue to pass on the knowledge and skills to the next generations; and Ophthalmology will be good to us. Prof. Agarwal’s teachings and spirit live on eternally, spanning generations of ophthalmologists.
Fifty-five years after coming into being, R. P. Centre stays true to its founder and the founding motto – “” = lead us from darkness to light.
“I hail, Alma Mater, clear Mother, to thee, Thy children true, faithful, and loyal will be”- Jennie Masters Tabb