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Dame Parveen Kumar – a beacon of achievement on her 80th birthday

President of the Royal Society of Medicine from 2010 to 2012. Co-author of globally renowned medical textbook Kumar and Clark’s Clinical Medicine. Advocate for women in healthcare. Dame Parveen Kumar, who celebrated her 80th birthday on 1 June, has made an immense contribution to science and medicine throughout her illustrious career.

Leading the birthday tributes to Dame Parveen, Professor Roger Kirby, current President of the Royal Society of Medicine, said: “I’ve known Parveen since 1985 when I joined her as a consultant at St Bartholomew’s Hospital. She was then, and remains now, an inspirational leader with enormous energy and an unparalleled zest for life.”

Early life

Parveen Kumar was born in 1942 and as a small child witnessed the violence in the streets of Lahore following the partition of India in 1947. Fleeing the city with her mother and two brothers, the family lived as refugees in Delhi before joining their father in China where he worked for the United Nations. Only a few years later, the Chinese Revolution forced the family back to India where her mother, faced with her husband’s failing eyesight, took a job at the Lawrence School Sanawar, where Parveen was enrolled as a pupil, to keep the family afloat.

Speaking to Professor Kirby at an RSM In Conversation Live event in 2021, Dame Parveen described her mother as a remarkable woman whose mantra was “nothing is impossible.” In her mother’s eyes, education, particularly for girls, was “topmost.”

Clinical and research career

With generations of doctors in the family, Dame Parveen’s choice to study medicine led her to St Bartholomew’s Hospital Medical School in London. Qualifying in 1966, she chose gastroenterology as her specialty and became one of the first women consultants at St Bartholomew’s (‘Barts’) in 1982.

Since then, her clinical and research career has centred around St Bartholomew’s, where she continues to teach as Emeritus Professor of Medicine and Education (now known as Barts and The London School of Medicine and Dentistry, Queen Mary University of London). 

Parveen’s contribution to gastroenterology within the UK and beyond is immeasurable and no doubt due to the combination of her dogged determination and warm personality which has been an inspiration throughout her career.

Dr Robert Logan President, Royal Society of Medicine Section of Gastroenterology & Hepatology, and National specialty adviser for endoscopy, NHS England and NHS Improvement

Influence of Kumar & Clark’s Clinical Medicine

Ask any doctor who has qualified in medicine since the 1990s what the name Parveen Kumar means to them, and they are likely to mention what is perhaps the most-read medical textbook around the globe. Kumar & Clark’s Clinical Medicine, by Dame Parveen and co-author Dr Michael Clark, was first published in 1987, after two and half years of gruelling research and editorial work, which she juggled with family life and her job as a hospital consultant.

“The existing textbooks at the time were verbose and not fun. We wanted to make the book a fun way of presenting accurate facts,” Dame Parveen told Professor Kirby. The book is now in its 10th edition.

I worked for Parveen as a junior doctor at Barts just before I joined the BMJ. Parveen was a wonderful role model, warning me in the kindest possible way that leaving clinical medicine might be a terrible mistake for my career. I'm now the Editor-in-Chief!

Dr Kamran Abbasi, Editor-in-Chief, Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine, and Editor-in-Chief, The BMJ

A champion for women in medicine

As a firm believer in the power of women to achieve anything they turn their minds to, Dame Parveen describes herself as a great protagonist for women in medicine and led the Medical Women’s Federation as President during its centenary celebrations in 2017.

“Parveen has been an inspiration to us all where she has been a beacon of achievement,” said Professor Kirby, speaking also of the contribution Dame Parveen has made to the lives of many less fortunate doctors as President of the Royal Medical Benevolent Fund, and her work as an ambassador for the UK Health Alliance on Climate Change.

Dame Parveen Kumar

Involvement with the Royal Society of Medicine

In 2010, Dame Parveen became President of the Royal Society of Medicine, where her focus on global medicine enhanced the prestige and international reach of the Society. This included leading an all-female delegation to Liberia in 2010 to look at ways of tackling the country’s high maternal mortality rates.

She also used her time as RSM President to implement a programme of global health education initiatives which garnered an enthusiastic following among medical students and early career doctors.

When her term ended as RSM President in 2012, Dame Parveen turned her attention to the formation of a new section at the Society to provide education and learning for the specialties of gastroenterology and hepatology.

At the end of their conversation in 2021 (available to watch on the RSM’s YouTube channel), Professor Kirby asked Dame Parveen to name her proudest achievement. “It’s got to be the book,” she replied. “People tell me the two best-known doctors around the world are Kumar and Clark and it’s got me to places where I’ve been able to help, hopefully.” 

“My delight has been teaching,” she added. “I just absolutely adore teaching. Medical students and young doctors - we learn so much from them.”

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