Medstars’ Heroes: Dame Parveen Kumar
Being awarded a Damehood in 2017 is just the latest milestone in Parveen Kumar’s career of more than five decades. Her beginnings make it all the more extraordinary. Born in 1942 in India, Kumar’s family had to move to China for her father’s career. When they returned, they found themselves on the wrong side of the border and lost everything. Soon afterwards, her father lost his sight and her mother became the family breadwinner. She remains her daughter’s biggest inspiration- a fact easy to understand when considering the career of one of the most remarkable women in medicine today.
Kumar came to the UK in her mid-teens and studied medicine at Bart’s medical school. Her 1966 graduation began an NHS career that lasted for over 40 years. Kumar trained as a gastroenterologist, specialising in diseases of the small bowel such as coeliac disease and IBS. Known to be an excellent, approachable teacher, she held several academic positions in her alma mater and founded the UK’s first MSc in gastroenterology.
Kumar and Clark’s Clinical Medicine
However her interest in education did not stop there. Perhaps Kumar’s most famous achievement is the publication of Kumar and Clark’s Clinical Medicine (1989). This book was a total departure from the dry, difficult to understand textbooks of Kumar’s time. As a co-founder and editor, she chose to completely re-write medical education, making the textbook enjoyable and easy to read. This revolutionary approach paid off. The book is now a standard purchase for medical students, is in it’s 9thedition and has won the BMA book awards three times. The book is widely credited with improving medical education both in England and abroad.
From then on Kumar has moved from position to position within the medical field. She was appointed the non-executive director of the National Institute of Clinical Excellence, which publishes guidelines in different areas of healthcare, before moving to become Chairman of the Medicines Commission UK, which advises the UK government on the regulation of medicinal products. From 2006 to 2010 she held two presidencies: of the British Medical Association and the Royal Society of Medicine.
Understandably, such an impressive career does not come without recognition. Kumar was the first ever recipient of the Asian Woman of the Year award (we imagine a tough act to follow!). In 2000, she was awarded a CBE for her services to medicine and a highly prestigious DBE followed in 2017. It’s intriguing to wonder what’s coming next: the sheer number of achievements in Kumar’s remarkable career, as not just a doctor but a woman of minority origin, imply that there’s certainly something amazing round the corner!