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He performed every type of surgery...
Kerala, and to a less extent Tamil Nadu, have earned a fair name for expanding public health care. The former state with greater political consciousness and high literacy could demand and get such care. It took time for Tamil Nadu to catch up.

In 2011-12, Tamil Nadu spent Rs 1286 crore on medical and public health on revenue and capital accounts. Successive governments have endeavoured to expand allocations. Increasingly large sections of the population have been the beneficiaries.  

The record in recent years is quite striking. I cite a few instances :

•    The preponderant number of deliveries of babies are today taking place in hospitals and health centres, nursing homes….and not at home. This has helped in drastic reduction in deaths of the mother or child at    the time of delivery.

•    A comprehensive health insurance scheme funded by the government has been offering for large sections of poor people the facility of expensive surgeries, not just at government hospitals but also at high-ended, sophisticated, private hospitals.

•    Free ambulance service 108 is another attraction.

•    The establishment of several medical colleges,

dental colleges, nursing and physiotherapy institutes, well spread over the state, has helped in the improvement of quality healthcare not just in the metro but in other parts of the state as well.


Lack of quality specialists...

However, large government hospitals suffer from inadequacy of quality healthcare personnel. In Salem, for instance, the government set up a super specialty hospital with sizeable allocation for buildings and equipment. However, it has not been able to get the services of qualified specialist doctors and technicians. The result is gross under - utilisation of costly facilities.

Five decades of medical service

The healthcare needs of the state are met not just by the government or large corporate hospitals; there are dozens of private nursing homes and polyclinics promoted by private doctors. Several of these set up by dedicated doctors have been rendering yeoman service. I came across one such, the Salem Polyclinic, established over five decades ago. Look at the present status : around 600 babies are delivered per month. The modest cost and high quality service offered attract patients even from Cuddalore, Dharmapuri, Hosur, Krishnagiri, Villupuram… The cost for a normal delivery is just around Rs 3000. Director, Dr Rashmi Rao pointed to the facilities available for handling 25 deliveries simultaneously. She endeavours to persuade patients to opt for a normal delivery unless a caesarian is unavoidable. Of the 500 treated daily as outpatients, nearly 300 are for gynaecology and pediatrics. Apart from gynaecology and general surgery, the hospital provides for a range of specialty services in cardiology, dentistry, dermatology, ENT, nephrology, neurology, oncology, orthopaedics, paediatrics, plastic surgery…


K N Rao’s medical odyssey...

With the kind initative of Dentist Dr Jayashree Mohan I met the founder Dr K N Rao. I was struck by the humility and service orientation of this octogenarian who has built the polyclinic literally brick by brick. Dr Rao reminisced his medical journey through the last six decades: After completing my intermediate at the Municipal College, Salem, “I responded to an advertisement in The Hindu with a self-addressed envelope  “I got admission and I had the privilege of getting educated at the Stanley Medical College under a galaxy of doctors like Dr Raghavachari, Dr Mahadevan, Dr K C Nambiar, Dr A Gajaraj… They were so dedicated!

Dr Raghavachari will attend to patients at the OP department from 7.30 a.m and turn up for lecture soon thereafter.

“I graduated in 1952. I concentrated on surgery. I joined the Salem Municipal Hospital and worked under Dr Kalyanasundaram, DMO. At the OP department, I discharged several functions, including those of the ward boy, collecting and taking urine samples for analysis! During house surgency at the Government Hospital (with a salary of Rs 75 p.m) I gained a lot of experience performing surgeries every day.

“I looked for opportunities to pursue studies abroad. The American Consulate provided me with a directory. I located Bethesda County Hospital in Washington that offered an internship at a salary of $ 75 p.m. I gained more experience at the New York Metropolitan Hospital in radiology and pathology,” said Dr Rao.

On a British fellowship, Dr Rao moved to Royal College of Glasgow where he finished the first part for the FRCS exam. He passed this in first attempt. After a six-month stint again in the US, he returned to the UK and completed the second part and became a full-fledged Fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons.


Clinic set up on a loan of Rs 6000...

Dr Rao chose to return to India. After a short stint at a Mission Hospital in Madanapalle, he moved to Salem, took a loan of Rs 6000 from some of his friends and acquired needed equipment for surgery including used operating table from the Army for Rs 300! Over the next three years, he performed a number of surgeries for hernia, hydrocoele, prostate…

Of course, with limited sources the going was tough and every rupee earned was ploughed back. Dr Rao maintained his concern for social service. He worked as a honorary surgeon at a leprosy hospital in Salem run by a German doctor for over three decades. Dr Rao donated the remuneration he earned for work in other hospitals for this cause.

“In those days, there was no specialisation of surgery as today. I had to perform every type of surgery including dental implants!” said this multi-specialty wonderman.

The Salem Polyclinic was set up in 1961 and by 1963, it was a 30-bed hospital. At a simple wedding in Pune,

Dr Rao married Padma who also graduated in medicine. Like Dr Rao, Dr Padma also dedicated to service and helped develop the poly clinic into a highly respected centre for gynaecology.


Service begins at home

Dr Arun Rao, son of Dr K N Rao and Dr Rashmi Rao, daughter-in-law, have taken charge of Salem Polyclinic. Both qualified medical professionals are taking care of the increasing demand. Today Salem Polyclinic utilises the services of 50 qualified doctors and 230 paramedical and support staff. To meet the increasing demand for nurses, the hospital has promoted a nursing college at Harur Main Road near Kuppanur, 22 km from Salem with intake of 40 students a year.

When Dr Rao chose the current location well away from the city centre, there was concern over the location. Today, located on the busy Omalur Road and near the new bus stand, it has become a crowded part of the town. Including an average of three persons accompanying a patient, the hospital receives around 2000 persons a day. Thus it is in need of larger space for expansion.

An interesting facet of Salem Polyclinic is the happy faces of the patients discharged and returning home. Reason : with the predominant service related to child birth one can understand the happy faces.

Dr Rao witnessed and contributed richly to the evolution  of Salem as a sophisticated town. He is so modest. It took special efforts to draw him into a conversation on his exciting medical odyssey through six decades.  –SV

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