June 22, 2001

VUMC professor helps to start medical university in Nepal

Featured Image

VUMC professor helps to start medical university in Nepal

Shiva Gautam, Ph.D., assistant professor of Preventive Medicine in the division of Biostatisics, is working to give something back to his home country, Nepal.

Gautam left Nashville and traveled to Nepal on June 9 for three weeks to contribute to the development of Kathmandu University Medical School. He recalled that he received an e-mail from a faculty member at the University of Washington requesting help from other U.S. medical schools to bring about a medical school at Kathmandu University, a private school in the Nepalese capital.

“I responded, being a biostatistician, and also from Nepal. I got involved in it heavily,” he said before he left. “I’ll go there, meet with them, see what they need, and report back. I am trying to be an ambassador.”

Gautam’s trip coincided with one of the most tumultuous times in Nepal’s history, coming just days after the killings of several members of the country’s royal family and the coronation of a new king, followed by unrest in the streets of Kathmandu.

This trip marks Gautam’s third return to his native land; in addition to being a biostatistician, he is also a poet, and he journeyed there in 1995 and 1999, the second time to coincide with the publication of a book of his poems in Nepali, Nepal’s national language.

Although Nepal has two government medical colleges and several other for profit medical training institutions, these institutions are not highly regarded outside of Nepal. Kathmandu University is a private, non-profit school, and is regarded as the highest quality institution of higher learning in the country. The hope is that founding a medical school affiliated with Kathmandu University will lead to a higher level of medical education for the country, Gautam said.

He said that Nepal has traditionally had a caste system that functioned to create a divide along ethnic, social, economic, and gender lines, and that the admissions policies outlined for the new medical school will function to educate people of all classes, genders, and backgrounds. The new school will also concentrate on public health issues, an area that can make a difference in the health of a largely poor and rural population.

“Vanderbilt could have a primary role in all this,” Gautam said. The role of VUMC could be that of offering used equipment, and also having faculty members volunteer to go to Kathmandu to not only teach students, but mentor and teach faculty.

Among those at Vanderbilt who have expressed an interest are:

• Bonnie LaFleur, Ph.D., Gautam’s colleague in biostatistics, who is contacting publishers in hope of getting donations of medical books or journals.

• Winfred Cox, director of finance and administration for the medical dean’s office, who is looking into the feasibility of sending used and to-be discarded computer equipment to Kathmandu University.

• Dr. Kay Washington, associate professor of Pathology, who is investigating a donation of used microscopes and slides.

• Art Dalley, Ph.D., professor of Cell Biology, who is assisting the school in developing an appropriate educational program in clinically oriented anatomy.

• Dr. Amy Chomsky, assistant professor of Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences, who has traveled to Nepal herself and has expressed an interest in helping the school with its needs in the area of ophthalmology.

Other universities involved in the effort to upgrade medical education in Nepal include Harvard, McGill University in Montreal, and McMaster University in Toronto.