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23 | Medical Professions in South Asia: Historical and Contemporary Analyses

Historians and social scientists will reassess conceptual approaches and empirical evidence on the social organisation of medical practitioners in South Asia, 1800 to the present day. We welcome papers on the whole ‘profession’, as well as on sub-fields, controversies, policies and regulation.


· Roger Jeffery University of Edinburgh (Edinburgh, Scotland, United Kingdom)


· 07/26 | 15:30-17:00 UTC+2/CEST
· 07/26 | 17:30-19:00 UTC+2/CEST

Long Abstract

Western-trained doctors in South Asia have always struggled to establish themselves as a medical ‘profession’. The past 10 years have seen increasing evidence of crisis, with the Supreme Courts in both India and Pakistan suspending the operations of their country’s medical councils in the face of a proliferation of poorly regulated private medical colleges across the region. Doctors continue to struggle unsuccessfully to stop unqualified medical practice, while new ‘short-course’ doctors are taking over tasks previously restricted to fully-fledged MBBS doctors. Other changes have attracted attention, such as the diversification of the social origins of medical students, with rising numbers of female doctors, But claims that the medical profession is ‘in crisis’ need to be nuanced. Levels of trust between patients and individual providers remain high, even if based on paternalistic attitudes. The general public sees doctors as powerful and unaccountable, and what is being observed in South Asia is not as atypical as some have claimed. Solutions – such as heavy-handed regulation of medical education and legal measures of recompense and restitution in cases of medical neglect or incompetence – are being proposed with little awareness of the historical context or alternative approaches. This panel will bring together historians and other social scientists to review evidence of change through time and variations across the region and propose new perspectives. Those already agreed to contribute are Samiksha Sehrawat (Newcastle), Nandini Bhattacharya (Dundee), Neha Madhiwala (Mumbai), David Shumway Jones (Harvard) and Kiran Kumbhar (Harvard).