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Year : 2020  |  Volume : 10  |  Issue : 6  |  Page : 316-318

Professor R. K. Tandon (1941–2020): A tribute to an inspiring mentor

Department of Gastroenterology and Hepatology, Kalinga Institute of Medical Sciences, Bhubaneshwar, Odisha, India

Date of Submission25-Sep-2020
Date of Decision15-Nov-2020
Date of Acceptance17-Nov-2020
Date of Web Publication24-Dec-2020

Correspondence Address:
Dr. Anil C Anand
Department of Gastroenterology and Hepatology, Kalinga Institute of Medical Sciences, Bhubaneshwar, Odisha
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Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None

DOI: 10.4103/cmrp.cmrp_60_20

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How to cite this article:
Anand AC. Professor R. K. Tandon (1941–2020): A tribute to an inspiring mentor. Curr Med Res Pract 2020;10:316-8

How to cite this URL:
Anand AC. Professor R. K. Tandon (1941–2020): A tribute to an inspiring mentor. Curr Med Res Pract [serial online] 2020 [cited 2021 Jan 25];10:316-8. Available from: http://www.cmrp.org/text.asp?2020/10/6/316/304831

Professor Rakesh Kumar Tandon, an astute gastroenterologist of international fame and the Medical Director of PSRI Hospital, passed away peacefully on 3 August 2020, at the age of 79 years. The end came when he was returning from his customary morning walk. With his passing, an era in Indian gastroenterology has come to an end, leaving hundreds of his students, mentees and proteges immersed in grief. Personally, to me, he was not only a revered teacher but also a friend, a philosopher and a guide.

His manner of passing reminded me of his words uttered a few years back. I had gone to discuss the options available and his advice after my superannuation from service. He had advised me to stay with the practice of medicine (rather than picking up an administrative job). He had mentioned about one of his senior colleagues who had collapsed to death while examining a patient. 'How else can one aspire to die?' He had said, 'I wish that I too, go while I am still looking after my patients!' That is how he wanted to go and did.

He was born on 1 April 1941 to an illustrious family in Pryagraj. His grandfather, late Purushottam Das Tandon, was a famous freedom fighter and a Bharat Ratna (Jewel of India) awardee who was well known for his selfless social service to the nation, particularly during the freedom movement. His grandfather's influence would have led him to devote his life to the selfless care of needy masses. Both his parents were teachers at Allahabad University. His values of honesty, sincerity and love for teaching were gifted by his parents.

He did his graduation and postgraduation from the prestigious King George's Medical College, Lucknow (1963 and 1966, respectively) where he was mentored by another legend Prof. SS Mishra. His passion for research earned him the most coveted Gold Medal for the best thesis. He traveled to the USA to complete his residency in gastroenterology at Rhode Island and V.A. Hospitals, Providence.

He started his work as a clinical research fellow in gastroenterology and later as a lecturer in medicine at Albany Medical College, New York, in 1970. Before returning to India to join the All India Institute of Medical Sciences in 1971, he also spent a short time at Medizinische Klinik Mit Poliklinik Der Universitat, Erlangen-Nurnberg, West Germany, and Aichi Cancer Center Hospital, Nagoya, Japan, to enrich his experience.

After returning to India, Prof. Tandon took up the challenge of doing some innovative work on a common problem of gallstones. He dissected out the basic gastrointestinal (GI) physiology of bile, lipid digestion and fatty acids. This work earned him his Ph.D., which was a rare feat for a clinician in those days. He did not stop there and remained focused on the common problems in India concerning GI and liver diseases. He also did original research on the epidemiology of chronic calcific pancreatitis of tropics. It remains one of his most cited papers even today. He mentored a pancreas research group at AIIMS and conceptualised and guided a widely appreciated study on antioxidants in chronic pancreatitis. He was the man behind the oft-quoted Asia-Pacific consensus guidelines on chronic pancreatitis.

It was during his tenure as a professor in gastroenterology that I had a chance of working under him. He was that rare personality that one would immediately idolise. He was exceptionally suave and stylish to look at, extremely knowledgeable and skillful and affectionate towards his residents and students. He would inspire his residents to do research, write papers and also informally interact with them on a daily basis. He always stood by and protected his residents when something adverse happened.

He was one of the pioneers to start endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography in India in the mid-1980s, when it was still in its nascent stage. He was an untiring enthusiast for therapeutic endoscopy and was often called in to demonstrate various procedures in endoscopy workshops. He mentored numerous students like me for DM and also Ph.D. degrees. His bibliography includes >300 research articles, published in internationally acclaimed journals including The Lancet, Gastroenterology, American Journal of Gastroenterology and Gut.

My association with him continued even after I left the department after my DM in 1988. There was no letter of mine which was not promptly replied. (That was before the era of emails.) The replies were thorough and detailed irrespective of whether he was in India or abroad. In 1989, he was nominated by the Indian National Science Academy as a visiting professor to Japan. Soon thereafter, he went to Harvard Medical School, Boston, as a visiting professor for 1 year. His interest in pancreatic diseases flourished while working with Peter Banks there.

After his return from Harvard Medical School, he was elevated to the position of Head of the Department of Gastroenterology and Human Nutrition Unit at AIIMS where he continued to contribute from 1991 to 2002, making the department the best department in the country. He had a great ability to enthuse and influence his students and instil in them with a sense of purpose to pursue academic medicine. Many of them have since occupied top positions in various public and private institutions of India. Most of his mentees try to emulate him, an ultimate tribute to a great mentor.

After superannuation from the service, he worked as the Head, Department of Gastroenterology, PSRI Hospital, New Delhi, and later its Director. At this hospital, he organised the DNB training programme and continued to work until the very end. Academic medicine animated his soul and it lives on as his mentees carry on his legacy. Another thing he instilled in his mentees was his preference of being humane over being great.

Prof. Tandon was the face of Indian gastroenterology in the world. He had a close association with all the known faces of gastroenterology world of that time like Mervin Sleisenger, Peter Banks, David Carr-Locke, Michael Farthing and Geoff Farrel, and he closely interacted with them. He also rendered service as the editor-in-chief of the Journal of Gastroenterology and Hepatology for 6 years and remained a trustee of the JGH foundation for a long time. The World Gastroenterology Organisation honoured his contribution to the science of gastroenterology and bestowed upon him the most prestigious award of 'Master of WGO'.

His foremost love in gastroenterology was the subject of pancreato-biliary diseases. He founded the Indian Pancreas Club (IPC) and personally organised its first international meeting in 2005. He was elected as a councillor of the International Association of Pancreatology (IAP) and was instrumental in organising a hugely successful joint conference of IAP and IPC in 2011 in Kochi, India. He was a councillor of the Asia-Oceania Pancreatic Association and actively promoted pancreatology in the Asia-Pacific region. He was the most sought-after expert to give talks at almost all major gastroenterology and pancreas meetings around the world on account of his highly rated original research work and unique oratory skills.

His contribution to the subject has been immense and was recognised by almost all organisations dealing with science. Some of the honours bestowed upon him included the prestigious Dr. BC Roy award of the Medical Council of India, the Lifetime Achievement Award of the Indian Society of Gastroenterology, the Lifetime Achievement Award of the All India Institute of Medical Sciences, the Lifetime Achievement Award of the Crohn's Colitis Foundation and the Shakuntala Amir Chand Award of the Indian Council of Medical Research. He was also unanimously elected the president of various societies such as the Indian Society of Gastroenterology, IPC and Parenteral and Enteral Nutrition Society of Asia. He was a Humboldt Fellow, and was a fellow of two national science academies in India.

He is survived by his wife, Manjula Tandon, a physician and his lifelong love. She has always been a strong support to him in hosting his residents at home. She also has a flair for dancing and is popular for her graceful recitals. His son, Manish Tandon, is a gastroenterologist in Brookline, MA. He has inherited his practical approach to life. Manish reflecting on his father's life and career said, 'Dad has lived a very fulfilling and rewarding life, and I am most proud of him as being my father and his numerous achievements. He has always shown amazing kindness and has been very humble in his ways. Despite his dedication to his patients, and his clinical work, he has been a most caring father, husband, brother and general human being. He has an amazing passion for knowledge and learning, and gained satisfaction from teaching and mentoring a number of young gastroenterologists over his career. In addition, he was an avid tennis player, enjoyed travelling, and interacting and meeting new folks all over the world!' His daughter Richa is an infectious disease specialist in Providence, RI. Both his children are carrying on their father's legacy of the noble profession of medicine.

Prof. Rakesh K Tandon will always live in the memory of all those who knew him. He will be remembered as a humane leader, an affectionate teacher and a compassionate healer. His ever-helping nature, smiling face and affable personality endeared him to his friends, patients and mentees. We all continue to strive to reach somewhere close to the heights that he had achieved.


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