Senaka Bibile and Medical Education

The Peradeniya Medical Faculty is celebrating 50 years in January 2012 (from 3rd to 7th). This article reflects some aspects of the Medical Faculty and its work.

| by T. Varagunam

( January 03, Colombo, Sri Lanka Guardian) The purpose of this short piece is to document the beginnings of the study of medical education in Sri Lanka and to acknowledge Senaka Bibile’s role in initiating it.
I knew Senaka Bibile fairly closely, as a friend, as his occasional physician and as a collaborator in the field of medical education. Senaka’s work in this field is not as well known as his work in helping nations set up national drug policies and in promoting the rational use of drugs.
Senaka Bibile (1920-1977) the person and his work, are well known in medical, political and Intellectual circles within Sri Lanka. I wanted an international perspective on this remarkable man. Hence I scoured the internet and came across this anonymous quote in Wikipedia, ‘he was the greatest medical benefactor of humanity that Sri Lanka has hitherto produced’. The thoughts and the subsequent work which earned him this reputation occurred during his time at the Peradeniya Medical School(PMS) as Professor of Pharmacology (1962-1967) and subsequently, as its first Dean (1967-1970).
I knew Senaka Bibile fairly closely, as a friend, as his occasional physician and as a collaborator in the field of medical education. Senaka’s work in this field is not as well known as his work in helping nations set up national drug policies and in promoting the rational use of drugs. When Bibile decided to move from congested Colombo to the free thinking environment of the Peradeniya Campus, he was brimming with ideas for making the PMS as a medical school based on rational approaches to education and on scientific thinking. With this in view, he wanted himself and the teaching staff to learn about the process of training doctors. Using his charisma and affable personality he invited the staff to his own house in the Campus on Tuesday evenings (after the ‘Tuesday Talks’ which was a lecture series for staff and students, and a precursor to the Kandy Society of Medicine) to read and discuss a book on medical education titled “Teaching and Leaning in Medical School” by Stephen Abrahamson and George Miller. Many staff readily accepted his invitation. Each one of us took on the responsibility for reading and verbally summarising a chapter from this book. These informal meetings were held in a spirit of camaraderie and were thoroughly enjoyable. (Later in 1973, under the auspices of the Medical Education Unit, the authors of this book conducted a Teacher Training Workshop for teachers from the PMS and the Colombo Medical School). After several of these Tuesday evening sessions a formal ‘Working Group on Medical Education” (WGME) was established in the PMS.
The 1960s was also the time when the World Health Organisation was getting interested in Medical Education (It used the wider term of Health Manpower Development) and was willing to support any local efforts made to train teachers in medical schools in educational science. Noting the efforts which the PMS was making in this field it started to provide support for medical teachers to strengthen their knowledge and skills in medical education which finally resulted in the establishment of the Medical Education Unit in 1973-the first such Unit in the country and in the South-East Asian Region.
Senaka Bibile’s implantation of the idea of medical education in the PMS has now grown and reproduced itself to become a well established discipline in medicine, on par with any other discipline in the medical field. All medical schools and many schools which train health personnel in the island now have a Medical Education Unit or its equivalent.

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Author: Sri Lanka Guardian

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