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Dr. G. C. Chandra Shekar Director, L V Prasad Eye Institute, Hyderabad

Interview Date : 15-06-2012

Dr. G. C. Chandra Shekar Director, L V Prasad Eye  Institute, Hyderabad Head, VST Centre for Glaucoma, helps building a Life of Caring and Helping aspirants realise their potential. Glaucoma is becoming an increasingly important cause of blindness, as the world’s population ages. New statistics gathered by WHO show that glaucoma is now the second leading cause of blindness globally, after cataract. The blindness it causes is irreversible. There is an urgent need for more public health action to tackle glaucoma.

Only the one suffering from the disease knows the value of health. To them the doctor seems more than God. Many Glaucoma specialists are scattered all over the country and have pledged to educate and treat patients. Some experts who have been trained with experts like Dr ‘G.C’
regard him as the authority in the subject. TCG had the privilege to meet this self-motivated doctor who  worships work.

As head of the Glaucoma Service at LVPEI, Dr GC has trained over 38 glaucoma fellows, of which eight were international fellows. His contributions as the Director of Education were recognised by LVPEI, by creating a Chair in his name “G Chandra Shekhar Chair of Director of Education”. He has published over 90 papers in national and international peer reviewed journals and has been a reviewer for several ophthalmology journals. He has delivered several named orations including the  prestigious Professor P Siva Reddy Gold Medal Oration of the All India Ophthalmological Society. He holds the position of adjunct clinical Professor at the University of Rochester and Case Western Reserve University. He has served as President of the Glaucoma Society of India (2005-06) and is a member of the Glaucoma Research Society affiliated to the International Council of Ophthalmology. He serves on the Clinical Guidelines Committee of ICO and the Membership Committee of Glaucoma Research Society. Dr ‘G.C’ strikes an instant chord with you with his cordial and unassuming demeanour. You can see a teacher, doctor, humanitarian and most importantly a committed human being in him.

In a candid interview with TCG Dr G.C, reveals there isn’t any great preparation or turning point or a penance that drove him to pursue medicine, he did it for a simple reason- to avoid Math! But behind the humour lies a human being ‘seriously’ committed to his profession… read on

Why Eye? ‘The eyes like sentinel occupy the highest place in the body’ While there are so many other branches in medicine why did you particularly opt for Ophthalmology?

It sounds like a negative decision, but let me spell it out, I thought I wasn’t good at Math hence took the Science route! Having got into medicine the initial charm was Cardiology, General Medicine was the option. But fate had something else in store for me. I didn’t qualify for the first medical entrance at AIIMS Delhi.

The second one was at Chandigarh which was also a negative result. That was when I thought I need to look at my core competencies seriously. That is how I turned to Ophthalmology, bidding goodbye to medicine. Handling disappointment…‘We must accept finite disappointment, but never l o s e i n f i n i t e hope…’

How did you take this disillusionment? Were you mature enough to analyse the turn of events and take them into your stride? How, in the first place were you able to see your limitation?

I had a very good friend along with whom I prepared for my medical entrance. For the kind of hard work he put in, getting a seat should not have been a Herculean task for him, but he couldn’t make it too. This pained and bothered me more than my own failure. I kept asking this question over and over again, “Why is this so, as he spent more time than me and he was putting his best efforts, but still couldn’t crack it and I made it?” What occurred to me at that point was that in everyone there is some given capacity or ‘limit’ if I may use that word and we can do only that much.

One may call it potential or ability or anything like that, but the point is that if we aim for something which is beyond our capability, chances of getting frustrated are high. Again if you aim for something less than your potential, or what you can achieve, then you are not realising your potential. So the difficult choice is understanding yourself and pitching for probably what you are capable of. And that is the catch 22 situation, whether you can meet your potential fully or not. This is not easy, but things are p o s s i b l e only if you are aware of what best can be done.

So clarity of thought i s mandatory irrespective of age? ‘Clear thinking requires courage than intelligence…’

Obviously, with the given armamentarium one should be able to do that. Mapping this to my situation when I faced this dilemma, I realised that medicine is not within my reach, hence went in for Ophthalmology, not with an attitude that because I couldn’t get into medicine this is my choice, but let me give my best to this, as it seemed an attainable goal.

What about your friend?

Since he couldn’t make it into medicine, he went off into graduation and Banking and even retired recently as a senior manager.

Where did you do your Ophthalmology?

After receiving my basic medical degree in Kurnool, Andhra Pradesh, I completed my residency in  phthalmology at the All India Institute for Medical Sciences, New Delhi.

How did you come to LVPEI?

After completing my six years Ophthalmology I was planning to go back to my hometown. I had a limited vision at that time, join my brother’s practice, go to my alma mater and take up to teaching. Teaching always had a special place in my heart. I was eager to transmit the knowledge I gathered for the last six years to the Post Graduates there. But again, fate had something else in store for me. AP State Government rules at that point did not allow me to take up a government job. So according to plan A, I did work with my brother for six months, but soon realised I wasn’t cut out for that either and started off to Hyderabad. I had a position of Reader in Ophthalmology in Manipal, almost decided to go there. Even before this offer from Delhi I had written to the Chairman of LVPEI, which was just coming up, that I would be interested in joining them. He was not too sure about employing me as the institute had just begun. With unexpected turn of events, it had ambitious plans of growing into a massive organisation, with Prasads mainly pitching in a major share for a social cause. They partnered with a common friend in the US and started this.

Before the institute started Dr Rao (Founder, L V Prasad Eye Institute) was conducting General Clubs across the capital for city Ophthalmologists, even at their  rasad’s Labs.

As I was interested in exploring my future here, I came from Kurnool and attended one of the clubs. Current trends and literature in the subject –science and Ophthalmology were discussed in clubs. During one of these sessions I participated I had a one on one talk with the Chairman and took me straight away. He gave my appointment letter in May, I saw my first patient in June and in July I started working.

How was it to teach?

I was and do teach myself always, I look at teaching that way. Since education was one of the main  references of the institute, we held a seminar on Ophthalmology with 10-12 people from US coming and lecturing at that time. I had to coordinate the activities then. Seeing my passion for the education projects he made me in charge of all the education projects of the institute. Since then I was Director for Education Programmes for more than two decades.

How is your schedule? How could you accommodate teaching?

Teaching at LVPEI is a part of the daily activity. We start at 7 in the morning with teaching sessions. Our day ends with seeing the last patient in the OP, at 7 again. 4 days of clinical work and 2 days of Research and administration makes a packed week for us.

How big was the doctors’ team when you started this?

We were five of us to start with. And we are 30 consultants, 50 doctors on training, 25-30 inhouse optometrists, and another 60 optometrists training. In the mornings you can see almost 175 students attending daily lectures. A day typically starts teaching.

What do you have to say about a place/ institute like this that offers practice, teaching and research, isn’t this a powerful ambience and opportunity to cultivate more and more experts?

The opportunity this institute gives is even more than that. We are into teaching, training, good care and research. To top it all as an institute we are also into public health. All these components including the fortune to also be at the rehab centre, is a rare and almost –difficultto- find anywhere combination. As a doctor practice, patient care and administration is a must.

In 2007, when my chair was taken over by someone else it was named “Dr G Chandra Shekhar Chair of Director of Education”. Training in ophthalmology also includes Fellowship programmes.

What is this Fellowship all about?

We have two kinds of Fellowship, one is for somebody already practising, but does not have a specialization, this is for relatively seniors in the field for about three months – this includes disease management. This is a telescoped experience. Though they do not get to do surgeries on their own, they can assist one.
Philosophy is that if you are a senior you know how to go about it but you have to know the finer details and nuances. The second one is the one year or 15 month programmes. It’s a pleasure to meet all these Fellows in various conferences who come up to sort out any doubts.

You are considered to be the authority in Glaucoma?

I’ve served as President of the Glaucoma Society of India (2005-06) and I am a member of the Glaucoma Research Society affiliated to the International Council of Ophthalmology. I also serve on the Clinical Guidelines Committee of ICO and the Membership Committee of Glaucoma Research Society. Most recent achievement is the recognition I got from the World Glaucoma Association. I would be in the US to attend the meet soon.

What are your other major achievements?

The major milestone for me is having the satisfaction of helping the students and patients. The satisfaction of helping the patients deal with Glaucoma is enormous. The beauty of seeing somebody mature into an expert is also another satisfying experience.

What are the major challenges you face in this profession?

There are quite a few challenges we face on a day to day basis, but the toughest one is the commercialism in the profession which is so rampant today. Whether it is the industry or the profession the fact is that it’s a growing menace today as the ultimate sufferer is the patient.

The beauty of LVPEI is that no patient will be refused treatment for any financial reasons and it is this policy which is the impetus for the institution to run with the same quality for the last few decades. Also I’d like to add that any doctor has the right to categorize patient as ‘non-paying’. 40-50% of our surgeries are totally free of cost. For us irrespective of the level complication of the surgery it is offered free of cost, at some places only cataract operations are done like this. This includes everything except cosmetic.

As a team we are always worried to see the prolonged waiting hours of patients and wish to address that. Perhaps this is the first time to hear a doctor saying that. With this parting note TCG took leave from the doctor-Director, a fantastic teacher, human being and ‘Visionary’ in true sense who worships work and rejuvenates vision.