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OpinionsA Lifetime In Pursuit Of Precision In Psychiatry

A Lifetime In Pursuit Of Precision In Psychiatry



Last week legendary psychiatrist Dr Doongaji passed away peacefully in his sleep, a day short of his 91st birthday.

During his life, he influenced the trajectory of psychiatry in from near ambiguity towards precision.

Those who were fortunate to be trained by him fondly recollect the highly charged excitement with which we reported to work each day during our three-year training period.

“What are the three most important things in medicine?” he frequently asked his new resident doctors.

Impatient for the right answer, he quickly thundered, “Diagnosis, Diagnosis, Diagnosis”! Thereby, he emphasised the significance of arriving at the right conclusions regarding the origins of the patient's symptoms prior to commencing treatment.

No one could save the hapless colleague who embarked on an ‘adventurous' treatment plan before meticulously arriving at a well thought out diagnosis.

Glowering, he would demand an answer to his rhetorical question, “Would you do this if your own close relative is the patient?”

Day after day, relentlessly, Dr Doongaji drilled the importance of the diagnostic process into us until it entered the very core of our professional lives.

Not surprisingly, many of us secured prestigious fellowships in the most advanced hospitals in the . Those that stayed back or returned to India have carried his work forward.

Although India has a rich tradition of psychiatry from the Atharva Veda through the early days of Freudian psychoanalysis, it needed somebody with Dr Doongaji's, overpowering personality and conviction to catalyse the transformation into modern neuropsychiatry.

In the 1960s, Dr Doongaji trained as an internist and a psychiatrist in India and at the Mayo Clinic in the United States.

At a time when almost all physicians stayed on in the US (even today there are more psychiatrists of Indian origin in the US than in India), Dr Doongaji returned to take up an unpaid honorary position in the department of psychiatry at the Seth G S Medical College and KEM hospital in Mumbai.

It is here that he trained and influenced over a hundred young psychiatrists while supporting himself and his family with evening private practice.

In addition to teaching, his contribution to psychiatry research is legendary.

From early studies of the benefits of yoga in anxiety, to biomarkers of aspects of schizophrenia, gender reassignment surgery, clinical trials of newer drug molecules, his scientific work covered a wide spectrum.

Most important, however, the rigorous approach to methodology with a ruthless imperative to precision is his major contribution to Indian psychiatry. That and the training and inspiration he provided to a generation of psychiatrists.

On Sunday, the 26th of February, some of us gathered in the serene environs of the Saher Agiary at Breach Candy for his prayer meeting.

We recollected with fondness what our ‘Sir' taught us and how he changed not just the trajectory of our lives but that of psychiatry in our country as well.

In a twist to the hackneyed phrase, one could say that in his passing, an era has not ended.

Indeed, it continues to thrive through those whom he trained and the ones they in turn train.

His overarching influence continues far beyond his mortal absence.


Dr Rajesh M Parikh is Director, Medical Research and honorary neuropsychiatrist at the Jaslok Hospital and Research Centre, Mumbai, as well as adjunct professor of psychiatry at the University of Iowa, USA. He is India's first and leading neuropsychiatrist.


The Northlines is an independent source on the Web for news, facts and figures relating to Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh and its neighbourhood.


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