The treaty of Yandaboo on 24 February, 1826 between the British East India Company and Burmese king had opened a new door to enter Assam for outsiders.
Since that time till 1947 Assam was under British rule as well as India. The British were shocked to see the traditional medical systems of Assam.
They realised that that is not suitable for health, even though it was not affordable to all the people of Assam. Therefore to see and realise that frustration they appointed some modern skillful British doctors in the different parts of Assam.
Among those doctors Dr. John Berry White was a prominent doctor. Actually he was not only a doctor, he was a humanist. He had led an initiative to establish a modern medical school in his working place – Dibrugarh, Assam.
Later, which modern medical school was developed as the Assam Medical College.
In 1858, 24 years a young British person came to Assam to serve the people of Assam as well as to serve the British East India Company. He first started his career as a doctor in upper Assam. The name of that young doctor was John Berry White.
In the different parts of the state through offering his services finally he was appointed as an important surgery doctor of undivided Lakhimpur district of pre-independent Assam. In that period, the southern part of undivided Lakhimpur district was known as Dibrugarh, later which became his main working place.
In his lifetime to the development of the modern medical system he took some firm progressive initiatives. Even before his retirement from government service he signed on a will by donating Rs. 50,000 to establish a modern medical school in Dibrugarh. He also took some initiatives to establish his modern medical school within his lifetime.
But on 19 November 1896 due to the sudden death of him, his great dream became uncompleted during his lifetime. Although his dream became uncompleted, after four years of his death through his donation of Rs. 50,000, a modern medical school was established at Dibrugarh in 1900.
This new modern medical school was renamed Berry White Medical School, to commemorate the dreamer of this medical school. For the first time in 1910 Berry White Medical School imported two X-ray machines from England, which were the first X-ray machines in India, and opened the radiology department for the first time in India through this medical school.
This Berry White Medical School was the first modern medical school of Assam as well as the entire north-east India. Later the medical school was upgraded to a Medical College, and finally after the independence of our country its name turned into Assam Medical College.
There was an important chapter of Berry White Medical School, it was related to the transformation of the name and place of that medical school. To make it a full fledged Medical College of Assam in 1938 a meeting was arranged among the Licentiate Medical Practitioner of Assam branch under the chairmanship of Gopinath Bordoloi, who was the first chief minister of independent Assam.
Through the meeting they first made a proposal to change the name from Berry White Medical School to Medical College.They also proposed to build the Medical at Barbari, Dibrugarh instead of Graham bazaar, Dibrugarh, former place of Berry White Medical School.
But at that time Assam was under the company rule, therefore governmentally these proposals were not progressing. At the same time a committee was formed to take votes from the local people of Dibrugarh to change the name and place of the medical school.
The chief members of that committee were M.L.A. Faiznur Ali, Dr. Rahmat Ali, Dr. Phani Ghosh, Dr. Suren Dutta, Suresh Bakashi, Bhabesh Mukharje, Inamul Mojid, Rohini Barua, Raybahadur Sadananda Duwara, Dr. Sarat Chandra Barua, Raosaheb Brindichand Korua, Siuvagawan Agarwal and Jothesh Kir, who was the Principal of Berry White Medical School in that time.
To accept and execute that proposal by governmentally another committee was formed by the presidentship of prominent doctor Dr. Bidhan Chandra Ray. Members of that particular committee were Faiznur Ali, Sarbananda Duwara, Rameswar Chaharia, Dr. S.N. Dutta, Dr. Phani Ghosh and Kamakhyalal Ghosh.
Every member of this committee urged to change the name of medical school to medical college. They also argued to establish that medical school by a new form. Finally, the committee, appointed by the government, took a decision in January, 1947, to change the name of the medical school by a new form.
Ray along with other members had read the will of John Bery White’s and visited Barbari, which place had been taken to establish the medical by a new form. After seeing the enthusiasm of local people of Dibrugarh, Ray finally accepted and suggested to the government to establish that medical school by a new form at Barbari, Dibrugarh.
Gradually after the finishing of all constructions on 3 November 1947, Lokpriya Gopinath Bordoloi, announced the up-gradation of the Medical School to the Medical College of Assam. Let. Hem Chandra Barua was the first Principal of this newly formed Assam Medical College. The outpatient dept. and many clinical and para-clinical departments had continued to function till 1950 in the former Berry White Medical School at Graham Bazar.
After 1950, all departments and outdoors were gradually shifted to the present Barbaris’s Assam Medical College Campus, Dibrugarh. Although, in the subsequent time the name and place of the medical school had been changed but still the name of the Assam Medical College’s auditorium is known as Berry White Auditorium.
Besides residence of Berry White’s house along with old Berry White Medical School are still existing at Graham Bazar, Dibrugarh. The Government of Assam has preserved the former Berry White Medical School building.
After establishing the medical school, the authority of the medical college had found some serious problems. This problem was a lack of efficient and interested man power, First batch students admission was completed in September 1947 with only 6 students. On the other hand, for the lack of doctors in the beginning of medical college, the government imported some modern skillful doctors from Bengal.
Those imported doctors took their four years diploma related to medical science from the Midfold Medical School, Dhaka. The name of that diploma was L.M.F. or License of Medical Faculty. Gradually, local interested boys of Assam were able to earn that medical diploma from Berry White Medical School, Dibrugarh; and could join in the various departments of medical school.
Present Pharmacist and then one year compoundary education was introduced in Berry White Medical School in 1912. At that time, M.E. School passed was the qualification to admit that course to read. The examination was controlled by a board staying at Shillong. Because at that time the capital of Assam was Shillong.
Like doctors in the very beginning, lack of nurses was also a serious problem to the medical authority. Then local girls of Assam did not come to take this profession. Therefore, through the help of the American Baptist Missionary and by the grant of the governor of Assam the medical authority had imported only four nurses from Italy in 1932 for the first time.
The team was led by Vinsenza Marajhali. These four nurses were first metron and sister of Berry White Medical School. For this exceptional positive work Vinsenza Marajhali is considered as the pioneer of modern nursing school in Assam and north-east India. Under her leadership on 13 February 1938 the first nursing school was established in Assam.
Today Assam Medical College of Dibrugarh, former Berry White Medical School is a full fledged Medical College. Now the medical college is not only for medical treatment to patients. Now it is also an important educational institution of modern medical science. Only twelve students of the first batch of the Medical College graduated in 1952, in the same year, the Indian Medical Council recognized the degree after an inspection of the college and took the name in the first Schedule.
From this date Assam Medical College has been offering modern medical education to the students. Currently the college provides both undergraduate and post-graduate education in nursing, pharmacy, medical midwifery, cardiology, orthopaedics, otorhinolaryngology, anatomy, pathology, neurology, biochemistry, ophthalmology, dermatology, pediatrics, obstetrics and gynecology, microbiology.
forensics, anesthesiology, radiology, dentistry, psychiatry, pharmacology, general surgery, plastic surgery, psychology and physiology, Recently, Union minister of health and family welfare on 12 February, 2016, laid the foundation for intensive care unit of 60 bed, along with a 192 bed super-specialty hospital with a catheterization laboratory and specialties in surgery, neurosurgery, paediatrics, nephrology, neurology and cardiothoracic vascular in the medical college.
Thus one day John Berry White’s dream had succeeded as Assam Medical College, and also became a pioneer modern medical educational institution in Assam as well as N.E. region of the country. Since the establishment of this medical till now the medical has been offering ultra modern medical treatments to all people of Assam along with neighboring states of Assam.
One of the premier and oldest modern medical institutes in the northeast region of India, the story of Dr. John Berry White and his great dream Berry White Medical School will always exist as a golden chapter in the history of Assam.
(Writer: Faculty Member of History, Rabindranath Tagore University. Phone: 99540 00200)
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