Indian Dermatology Online Journal

: 2011  |  Volume : 2  |  Issue : 2  |  Page : 134--135

A tribute to the 'teacher of teachers' - Prof. A. S. Thambiah

Rajetha Damisetty 
 Consultant Dermatologist, Mohana Skin and Hair Clinic, Hyderabad, Andhra Pradesh, India

Correspondence Address:
Rajetha Damisetty
Consultant Dermatologist, Mohana Skin and Hair Clinic, Hyderabad, Andhra Pradesh

How to cite this article:
Damisetty R. A tribute to the 'teacher of teachers' - Prof. A. S. Thambiah.Indian Dermatol Online J 2011;2:134-135

How to cite this URL:
Damisetty R. A tribute to the 'teacher of teachers' - Prof. A. S. Thambiah. Indian Dermatol Online J [serial online] 2011 [cited 2020 Jun 2 ];2:134-135
Available from:

Full Text

[INLINE:1]Prof. Arthur Saravanamuthu Thambiah (1924-2011), known as the "teacher of teachers", was born in 1924 to an eminent doctor couple, Dr. S. Thambiah and Dr. Lilly Thambiah. He graduated from Madras Medical College (MMC) in 1948, gathering many academic laurels in the process. He went on to become one of the first Indians to receive a MRCP (Edinburgh) in 1950. He got trained in the prestigious St. John's Institute of Dermatology, London, under luminaries such as Dowling as a Colombo Plan scholar and returned to India to join the Department of Dermatology in his alma mater. During his stint in St. John's Institute too, he received many accolades for his diligence and diagnostic acumen.

In 1961, he became a professor of dermatology after the first professorial chair was instituted in MMC in 1961. He was inspired by the St. John's Institute and set up a good clinical dermatology section, a sound histopathology service and a contact dermatitis clinic. His belief that a good clinician should understand the skin from within and his interest in dermatopathology led to generations of clinical dermatologists becoming conversant with the sub-speciality. The mycology wing of the dermatology department, set up in 1960, was his brainchild. It was one of the earliest dedicated mycology centers in the country and continues to be a referral center for the whole of South India to this day. He was responsible for rechristening the then "Madras Dermatology Club" as the "Madras Club of Cutaneous Medicine", emphasizing the fact that skin is a mirror of the internal homeostatic mechanisms.

He had published over 200 articles in both Indian and international journals. His publications enriched literature in the fields of mycology and genodermatoses. But his greatest contribution to the speciality he loved is the strong teaching tradition he started at MMC, a tradition which continues to live in various parts of the Tamil Nadu, rest of the country and in far-flung places in the world through those he taught and those who were trained by his students. His aim in starting the postgraduation course in dermatology was to train a cadre of dermatologists who could deliver quality care to those suffering from skin disorders in the country and hold their own among the international community of dermatologists. The 1 st Asian Congress of Dermatology was organized in Madras (Chennai) in 1970 by Dermatological Society of India (DSI) under his chairmanship.

His contributions were recognized by the state and many prestigious organizations; he was elected Fellow of the Royal College of Physicians, Edinburgh, member of The Indian Academy of Medical Sciences and Emeritus Member of the British association of Dermatologists. He was awarded doctorates (Doctor of Science, honoris causa) by both University of Madras and the Tamil Nadu Dr. M. G. R. Medical University. The Medical Council of India recognized his contribution to teaching by awarding him the BC Roy award for Eminent Medical Teacher in 1978, just 2 years after the most prestigious award in the field of medicine was instituted.

An intellectual giant with a prodigious memory, he was also a man of principles and strong beliefs. His golden rule was "to be faithful to his daily task"; these words which he would often repeat were probably responsible for making a strong work ethic a habit in his students.

He was a believer in team work and always attributed his achievements to his team rather than his own brilliance. His juniors who made significant contributions of their own to the speciality never fail to acknowledge his contribution to their work.

He started his private practice in 1982 after he retired from government service. It was an exercise in charity and witnessed mammoth crowds that ran into many hundreds. The nominal consultation charges were exempt for students, teachers, policemen and anyone who claimed to be poor. He retired from full-time practice just months prior to his demise.

He continued to conduct immensely popular teaching sessions in K.J Hospital, Chennai well after his retirement from MMC. One of his favourite sayings was, "The eyes do not see what the mind does not know". He took great pains in arming his students with the knowledge that would help them become keen observers and good clinicians.

He was a father figure, icon, mentor, guide and philosopher to his students. His kindness and compassion to his students and patients, especially the needy ones, was legendary. They, in turn, reciprocated with unparalleled devotion to him.

Prof. Thambiah was an active campaigner against nuclear weapons and held high offices with physicians for world peace. Never one to shirk his responsibility to the community, he also served NGOs which sought him for his integrity and his strong ethics.

A bachelor, he remained wedded to his work till his last days. When he passed away on 11 th May, 2011 after a brief illness, Indian dermatology lost an icon whose life was his message. The doyen of dermatology was laid to rest at Kilpauk cemetery, but he continues to live in the hearts of numerous dermatologists, patients, their kin and many others to whose lives he made a difference.