‘You have to be sympathetic first, then treat people’

IT is a day to look back and look ahead, with hope. For Prof. Gurpreet Singh, Head, Department of General Surgery, and Dean, research PGI, who retired from the Institute on August 31, the institute has been his second home for more than three decades now, a space which gave him the opportunity, support and freedom to do what he was passionate about.

It’s been a journey that has been both fulfilling and rewarding to say the least, one that he said, earned him many blessings from his patients. “I am an ordinary person, who got extraordinary opportunities at PGIMER. I did my work to the best of my ability and I never forget that the institution is bigger than the individual, as it is all team work that leads to success. I have been very fortunate to have worked with brilliant minds of various medical specialties and been part of a change that has helped so many people,” reflected Prof Singh, whose area of speciality is treatment of breast cancer.

Over the years, Prof Singh has done more than 3,000 surgeries, working closely, apart from his own team in the department, with doctors from other departments at the institute to offer state-of-the-art treatment to patients from across the region. The effort, said the doctor, has been to constantly change with time, to offer the latest treatments, medicine, technology, as per world standards to patients with breast diseases.

“PGI is one of the best places to get treated for breast cancer in North India and that’s because of the Standard of Care (SOC) we want and strive to give to our patients. The idea is that a patient should get the same treatment in any part of the world, be it India, USA, or Europe, as we keep adapting world standards of treatment modalities. It is the basis of all the efforts we do, for we believe it is the right of every patient. Once you establish a baseline, then you can look at new treatments and achieve breakthroughs, within a framework of medical rules and ethics and of course, the circumstances. Teams from various specialities of the institute, radiotherapy, medical oncology, medicine, pathology…have been striving for change as we rely new surgical procedures and technology to offer treatment,” he explained.

PGIMER now has what is called the tumour board, as part of which, doctors and health care providers with different specialities meet regularly to discuss cancer cases, share knowledge and determine the best treatment and plan for a patient, leading to better treatment outcomes and fresh perspectives. “Multi-modality treatments are the way ahead and the kind of service we have been providing has been constantly changing and we have standardised many things, change is a slow process, but it must happen,” added Singh.

Breast cancer is the number one cancer in women in India, the most common, and according to Prof Singh one of the biggest advances in the field has been breast conserving surgery.

“It is possible in selected patients, when we can effectively treat the patient and save the breast. In every patient it is tough, and one of the challenges is to save the breast, make cosmetic changes and make sure that the cancer does not come back. So, the importance of specialists in the field and also relying on evolved breast surgery and radiotherapy techniques. When you get treated by a specialist, there are better outcomes, and at PGI, patients get multi-modality treatments from specialists,” said Prof Singh, adding that the effort is to save lives and give patients better quality of life.

Women, he said, need to get regular check-ups, not ignore any signs and take care of their health. “A number of factors contribute to the rising cases of breast cancer, obesity, unhealthy lifestyle, diet, lack of exercise, early puberty, late menopause, it all adds up,” added Prof Singh, who has been focusing on breast cancer surgery for the last ten years.

As for what he has absorbed in these decades, he says he has learnt that one needs to put oneself in the position of the patient and then treat them. “You have to be sympathetic and patient-centric first and then treat. The need of the hour is better medical education in the country, one that is the responsibility of the government, and not the private sector. Medical services should not be based on profit, but care, and we need to focus on this on priority,” he said.

In an attempt to upgrade the techniques of training the surgical residents and introducing novel and advanced technology into conventional teaching methods, the Department of General Surgery has developed the Skill lab and Advanced class room. The room will directly benefit the patients allowing them to undergo guided interventions and some vascular interventions more easily.

Professor Singh added he is now looking forward to reading and spend time following his passions.

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