The year was 1978, a young girl with two braided plaits and ribbons decided to join the Armed Forces Medical College (AFMC), Pune. She had no idea what life in the Armed Forces was all about and had no background of the forces. All she had seen was a disciplined smart set of youngsters who stood out in a crowd in Pune.
They were the cadets from NDA strolling the streets in their muftis. This young girl had her heart set on becoming a doctor. She chanced to visit AFMC along with her friend Suchitra while in Class XII, whose father was in the Air Force. Suchitra also obtained for her the entrance exam forms for AFMC and the next thing she knew, she had qualified in the selection process.
Being one of the CBSE toppers and a National Science Talent scholar, she could have joined any medical college, but it was the uniform that beckoned her and much against the wish of her parents she joined the Armed Forces Medical College. She later went on to become the first woman to assume the appointment of Dean and Dy Comdt of the same college in Jan 2017! I was that very girl, inspired by my grandmother who had been orphaned at age 2 and a child widow at 8 years of age, yet against all odds had gone on to become a doctor in the early 1900s. This is my kaleidoscope……
An alumnus of Armed Forces Medical College of 1978 batch, hard work resulted in my topping the Pune University in all the three phases of MBBS and being awarded the President’s Gold Medal and Kalinga Trophy for the best outgoing student in academics and extracurricular activities in 1982.
Those were some of the best years of my life which taught me the art of multitasking and the mantra of ‘All work and No Play can make even Jane a dull girl!’ While in service I got a chance to learn golf, horse riding, sailing, parasailing and an opportunity to fire the tank as well as the Artillery gun! I was commissioned into the Army Medical Corps in Dec 1982 and have had a distinguished career for the past 37 years.
Having served in Jodhpur, Jhansi, Pathankot, Namkum, Pune, Delhi and Udhampur, I have now moved to Delhi as DCIDS Medical in the Office of the CDS. However, the best tenure was that of Dean AFMC, whe assisted by an amazing team, we could set up new departments, training courses, student-friendly initiatives as well as the Regional Centre for Medical Education and a Special Multidisciplinary Research Unit.
The growth of the dreamy girl was facilitated, specifically with a transition from ‘I’ to ‘We’! A combination of head and heart was required to lead and mentor my faculty team and the loveable cadets who mischievously nicknamed me Rajmata! The lessons of leadership and team spirit of this tenure were particularly invaluable. Working hard, I excelled in the execution of my service responsibilities and obtained distinction in the military courses as well. On the academic front, I qualified in Pediatrics with an MD and DNB in 1990.
Those days there was no common entrance exam for a PG seat and I did not get the opportunity to join AFMC for further studies. However, that did not deter me from following my heart which was set on Pediatrics and accepted joining the course at the Naval Hospital in Mumbai. Thereafter, I trained as a Pediatric Nephrologist at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), New Delhi, followed by Fellowships at NUH Singapore and GOS London. Thereafter, I had the privilege of setting up the first Pediatric Nephrology facility in the Army Medical Corps.
It would be in order to point out that to obtain the grant of study leave I had to apply every year for four years continuously, before I was selected for Pediatric Nephrology training. However, I never gave up on my passion until I secured the study leave; and for the fellowships abroad I did not hesitate to use my annual leave and furlough. Where there is a will there are many ways! There is no thrill greater than forging your own way and the Forces offered me both the challenges and the canvas to paint on.
I went on to become Professor and Head of the department of Pediatrics at AFMC, ACMS and Army Hospital (R&R), Delhi and found my calling in medical education; therefore decided to pursue the FAIMER fellowship course for two years while in service. In the forces I was able to garner vast professional and teaching experience with a large number of publications to my credit and have authored 15 chapters in various text books.
Consequently, I was also awarded the Best Teacher Award by the Maharashtra University of Health Sciences. This gave me the domain expertise to be invited as a guest speaker at various national and international conferences. I have also been a past President of the Indian Society of Pediatric Nephrology and a founder member of the Pediatric Research and Education Society of India Defining Excellence.
I have been greatly supported and encouraged by my husband, Lt Gen RV Kanitkar, PVSM, AVSM, SM, VSM (Retd) who superannuated as Quarter Master General of the Indian Army. I met him way back in 1978 as a freshly minted graduate from NDA cum IMA. I still remember the indulgent expression on the face of the couple who had been instructors to us both in NDA and AFMC respectively, when they spotted us strolling hand in hand on MG road in Pune! My husband has been a pillar of strength to me through the years in Service.
He never let me give up despite many rough patches on this journey we had set out together. The policy for spouse co-location was not as friendly as it is today. Therefore, of our 36 years of marriage, we were posted together only for 12 years and I had to manage the home and professional fronts single-handedly most of the times. We accepted the difficulties and challenges and our families helped out during periods of crisis. One thought that we always held close to our heart was ‘Let’s Grow Together without Growing Apart.’ Today we feel very privileged to be the first couple to have risen to the rank of Lt Gen and both having been decorated for the services rendered. # Couple Goals! We are blessed with two children Nikhil and Vibhuti and both are doing well in their chosen careers.
For my dedicated and committed service to the Organization, I have been awarded the GOC-in-C (Southern Command) Commendation in 2004 and Chief of Army Staff Commendation on five occasions. I was awarded the Vishisht Seva Medal (VSM) in 2014 and the Ati Vishisht Seva Medal (AVSM) on 26 Jan 2018 for dedication to duty and contribution to the care of children.
I have also been nominated to the Prime Minister’s-Science Technology Innovation Advisory Committee in October 2018 and am the only doctor and serving officer on the same. I have also been nominated to the Board of Governors of Medical Council of India in July 2019. These two nominations are singular honours for a serving officer which have been made for the first time. Besides these I have been awarded the Fellow of the Indian Academy of Pediatrics and the National Capital Foundation of India Award.
I am honoured and humbled that the Services have given me an opportunity to simultaneously don three hats of the noblest professions and reaching the pinnacle in each. As a soldier I have reached the highest rank of Lt Gen. As a teacher I have headed my Alma Mater as Dean at AFMC and as a doctor, have been the first Pediatric Nephrologist of the AMC and set up dedicated centres providing dialysis and transplant to children in Pune and Delhi. But the best part is that the three roles themselves are gender-neutral and my students only saw me as a teacher, patients as a doctor and colleagues and men as an Officer and a Gentlewoman.
This organization is fair, transparent, respected and safe for a woman where she is given opportunities to grow. If there is one message I’d like to share it is to enjoy every day in uniform with childlike enthusiasm and challenge yourself to achieve the impossible. Never give up-just give back! To every woman in uniform I can say ‘Half the world is yours to take, but the full is yours to give’. So always give it your best. Jai Hind!
Lt Gen Madhuri Kanitkar is the third woman officer in the Indian Army and first paediatrician to reach the second-highest rank in the Army.
(The views and opinions expressed within this article are the personal opinions of the author. The facts, analysis, assumptions and perspective appearing in the article do not reflect the views of Republic TV/ Republic World/ ARG Outlier Media Pvt. Ltd.)