'Medical students still rely on archaic, dated text books'
Dr Reshma Nayak started her career as a dentist and moved on to writing on health issues.
Gradually, she escalated to the position of editorial writer at health.india, India's leading health portal writing on health and hygiene issues that confront society today.
Bubbly and headstrong by nature, Dr Reshma Nayak thinks there is a serious dearth of good medical writers in the country and that doctors should consider taking up writing as an alternate career.
Through health.india.com, which has over 0.45 million unique users currently, Dr Nayak wants to channelise medical writing in India.
In this interview, she shares her views on the challenges facing medical profession and offers career advice to aspirants who want to pursue writing as a parallel vocation.
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Image: Dr Reshma Nayak
'My parents wanted me to be a doctor and my brother an engineer'
Did you always want to be a dentist?
Not really! My parents wanted me to be a doctor and my brother an engineer (like most good South Indians want).
Due to my CET rank, I just missed the merit seats at the major medical colleges I wanted to study in. Dentistry was the only other way I could become a 'Dr' and hence the choice.
What do you think of the medical education standards in India?
The standards of education in India in general needs to improve and get a lot more modern now. This applies even to medicine.
Students still rely only on archaic, outdated text books. The aim of the majority is to pass their exams and get into a PG course which would set them on their road to riches.
However, there are a few who genuinely want to make a difference to patients.
Illustration: Uttam Ghosh
Reservation and poor funding major problems facing medical profession
According to you, what are the challenges facing medical education in the country?
There are five major problems confronting medical education in the country.
The reservation system -- the per cent of students getting in through pure merit is very less. The donation system and NRI seats are mostly 'bought over' by rich parents who want their kids to have a 'Dr' prefix and they can pay any crazy amount to get it. Since the demand is huge, the colleges are only increasing the 'donations' year on year.
Government colleges and hospitals do not get enough funding. Even though a lot of money is allocated to health in the budget every year, how much actually reaches these hospitals and colleges is a mystery.
The professors and teachers in the colleges are paid very less. Not many good doctors want to teach at colleges since they are losing out on revenue from their private practice.
The entrance exams are also quite archaic.
The counselling process needs to be a one-on-one with the student to avoid pressure from the parents.
'My knowledge of the concepts of medicine have helped me'
Why and how did you make the shift to writing?
I used to work with a well-known dentist as an associate. However, the creative person in me wanted to do something else. Since I wasn't very keen on dentistry from the beginning, it failed to retain my interest.
To add to it, I did not have the financial backing to start my own practice. In 2006, I started out as an advertising copywriter in an online agency called Pinstorm and loved it. Thus began my digital marketing journey.
What do you bear in mind while writing for the portal?
Understanding the audience, working on content which is relevant to them and writing in a language they understand.
Is it a good idea for doctors/students who do not wish to practice medicine to take up creative writing or editorial as an alternative career?
People should assess their strengths and weaknesses with parents, counsellors, friends and mentors before choosing their career option. The reasons to quit while studying or after studies should be carefully thought over. Find out where your true passion lies.
Ask yourself when are you happiest? Is it when you write; when you are with kids/family or when you interact with people? Or is it to do with the remuneration involved? Identify your interest areas before taking the plunge. If you choose a career which you really love, money and fame will naturally be attracted to you.
There is a dearth of good medical writers in India. It takes a basic understanding of medicine coupled with good grasp of English to simplify aspects of medicine for the junta. If you think you have these skills and are interested in creating awareness among people about medical and health issues, nothing will stop you.
How much of your medical knowledge are you actually able to apply to your writing?
My knowledge of the concepts of medicine have helped me a lot since we need to simplify the content a lot for the audience. However, what helped me even more is the marketing background where I learnt how to understand what the audience wants.
Illustration: Dominic Xavier