March 24, 2008
60, Number 24
March 24, 2008
Humanitarian at heart
By robin tricoles
When Bhagirath Majmudar interviews prospective medical students, he looks for the ones who have a head — and a heart — for medicine.
“Medicine is not just a profession. It’s deeply humanitarian,” says Majmudar, professor of pathology at Emory School of Medicine. The recipient of several teaching awards during his 35 years here, Majmudar’s kindness and compassion begin with his students and extend to his patients and the community.
“The most phenomenal part about being a teacher is the interaction with students. I tell them in their second year that they are standing under a load of information, but in the fourth year they will be able to come to me and argue that they do not agree with me. And that will be a proud moment in my life,” he says.
Also an associate professor of gynecology and obstetrics, Majmudar says nothing compares to witnessing the birth of a baby. But he adds, “Pathology was my love at first sight. It’s very interesting. You see sick patients, healthy patients, surgery, infections and congenital problems. Pathology is a science of concepts, and it’s a very optical science. Most of the diagnoses are made by sharpness of sight and a quick recapture of optical memory.”
The field includes several subspecialties such as clinical, experimental and immunological pathology. Majmudar chose to specialize in anatomic pathology, which includes autopsies and surgery. “I’m primarily a surgical pathologist, specializing in gynecological pathology. I often work in a room next to the OR where a surgical specimen can be brought in for evaluation. Sometimes the surgeon brings it in, and we look at it together. And sometimes the surgeon is an excellent pathologist. We are closely tied together, so we manage a patient’s care through consultation and humanity,” he says.
When the patient’s care involves a gloomy prognosis, Majmudar is there to lend both professional and spiritual support to the patient and his family. “I help these patients by giving them perspective. For example, if a physician tells a patient he has a 50 percent chance of a two-year survival. I will tell him, yes, that may be true, but it does not guarantee that anyone else is going to live more than two years. There are no guarantees.
“I also talk with patients about their fears, their family, and how long they really want to live. Often they’ll say, ‘The way I am, I don’t want to live much longer anyway.’ It turns out they often are afraid of what is going to happen to them after death. I tell them I can’t prevent the process, but maybe I can make the process more peaceful,” he says.
Majmudar finds his peace in his love for community and the arts. “I’m interested in so many things besides medicine. I’m passionately in love with Sanskrit. And I like art, literature and poetry,” he says. He has a passion for acting as well and has appeared locally in several original plays and has penned others. Majmudar, faculty adviser to Emory’s Hindu Student Council, also has served as a Hindu priest for the past 30 years.
In that time, Majmudar has performed more than 200 marriages, many interfaith: Jewish and Hindu, Catholic and Hindu, Baptist and Hindu. He has performed ceremonies in town and out of town, some as close as Boston and some as far away as California.
“When I conduct a wedding it is a responsibility,” says Majmudar. “I meet with the couple before, ask them questions, and prepare them for the wedding. Then after the wedding, for many years, I keep track of how things are going. The couple often sends pictures of their home and their children.
“Performing the ceremony is not a job done, it’s a responsibility undertaken because I care for them. And it’s a joy.”