The specter of ignorance haunting our campuses

I am a final year MBBS student at LUMHS Jamshoro, one of the ISO certified campuses in Pakistan. Getting admission here was, for the moment, a dream come true. I came here with great expectations, but all of it turned out against my expectations. The basics of medical science were taught by teachers who spent major portion of their lectures teaching religion. Human body, for them was a perfect system – no medical mysteries in design. Evolution was for them, a scientific fantasy and they didn’t know our bodies are full of adaptation, maladaptation and compromises.

One could sense their incompetence in answers to questions asked. They got enraged hearing the very word ‘evolution’, reflecting their narrow understanding of ‘scientific theory’, and the very concept of natural selection and reproductive success that it seeks, was alien to them. It still echoes in my mind, the giggling of a teacher and his response, “you question normal anatomy of body?” when I told him about a number of flaws in human body that don’t give picture of a perfect design but that of a system which has to compromise one aspect to furnish a certain other. Majority of the teachers don’t know proper English. It damages their will power to read academic books—let alone works of eminent scholars.

Two years of basic medical sciences: dishonesty and disgrace, in form of such faculty, served me. From 3rd year on, unkindness, bitterness and dishonesty would serve me in form of hospital postings. Teachers read lines of books: “Patients are intelligent beings; show kindness and sympathy; hygiene first; protect integrity and honor of patient; treat them all equally.” All of it was, however, more words than actions.

Most teachers didn’t show kindness to lower class patients. They talked to them with style of a demigod. They washed their wounds with whatever stuff they found at ease. Most teachers in psychiatric ward can be described by words of one of them: “Assure the attendants and patient you would treat them medically but they must continue their efforts at taking help from their traditional beliefs.” Why do we take part in spreading ignorance that traditional healing helps and indirectly support the idea that devils and demons might have possessed the patient? Supporting supernatural theory of disease is outright ridiculous and dishonest. Ethics, that of Hippocrates or the modern concept of five star doctor is only found in books; it’s not even in the limbic system of doctors, let alone be found reflected in their actions.

This demigod attitude of teachers and their gullibility is transferred into students and trainees as if through some dominant form of inheritance pattern. The effects are all reflected in students. For example, majority of them become Pundits, Clerics and traditional healers believing in combination of magic, miracles and empiricism.

I can find in my university many anti-vaxers, and supporters of alternative medicine. Students don’t know the hierarchy of experimental setups. They believe in whichever research paper they read, while those who research online don’t know about “theory of confirmation bias.” Name is enough for us, what about the type of studies? “That doesn’t matter, a study is study,” remarked a friend of mine. Another unfortunate occurrence is that most students can not name any prestigious journal of medicine.

In my 4th year, I posted an article on social media describing a book most used here to learn community medicine. The book “Naveed Alam: community medicine” is full of scientific blunders, personal statements and hate speech. My article aroused a swarm of critics from my classmates, and on top of that, Religion-oriented mates threatened me, for they took my insights against their insecurities. My views on paper system of the university e.g solve past papers and you are done with it, further increased insecurities, ashamedly, even of position holders.

Our universities are haunted by ghosts of money-mongering corrupt academicians. Most of them, capitalists and feudal lords, enjoy patronage of political power. Faculty members and other staff, from juniors to seniors, all have political patronage and kinship support, which means we no longer enjoy the right to freedom to raise our voices against any kind of ideological or practical hegemony that we face.

Students are a powerful force responsible for broader level changes in social structure. In LUMHS, for example, there are numbers of problems that go unnoticed by academics: 8-9 hours of load-shedding, attenuated growth of central library, absence of any library in hostels, problems of hygiene, unchecked quality of food and drinks served, swarms of mosquitoes and fleas everywhere, to mention a few.

There are students who raise their voice but are sent into a cognitive dissonance by the very thought that their parents would be receiving letters full of dire consequences to face. There are pro-academic students who make noise for a couple of days and go silent after their favours are gained. Such students then start justifying helplessness of academics to solve this or that problem.

I fear doctors from here might prescribe leeches, bloodletting, placebo herbs and prayers in their professional career. That’s why I propose a number of solutions to establish the foundations of scientific thought here:

1) History of medicine, and Biomedical ethics, should be included as major subjects so that students don’t fall prey to mistakes of past and they could tame their demigod attitude. This will help them understand why modern medicine is the best of past we could extract and the fact that its prestige is supported by objective scientific trials.

2) Teachers should be trained in basic sciences and reminded not to include their personal beliefs while teaching a subject that needs curiosity in students – which should be praised rather than be perished. Moreover, evolution be taught to students and teachers through including questions on evolution in tests for selecting teachers and for students to pass house job. Nothing in biology makes sense without evolution. Knowledge about science of Darwinian medicine is needed to revolutionise our approach at certain problems and medical mysteries.

3) An active complain cell should be implemented and academicians should be reminded of their responsibilities. Student unions should be allowed under leadership of students well versed both in ideology and praxis. We need all of this more today than ever.