I recently caught a re-run of Munnabhai MBBS on one of the TV channels. I am a big fan of Mr.Rajkumar Hirani and I think he has been blessed with story-telling gene that is very hard to find. He can make very complex matters easily understandable with his movies that tend to strike a chord with audience.

No wonder, MunnaBhai MBBS went on to win the 2004 National Film Award for Best Popular Film, and several Filmfare awards, including the Critics Award for Best Movie and Best Screenplay.

I certainly don’t endorse the violence, cheating, unfair practices and exaggerated expressions on several issues; I think this movie should be a “must-watch” for all the medical students and pre-med students. This movie provides valuable lessons in the practice of medicine and illustrates various qualities important to be a physician albeit in a exaggerated (read bollywood) way.

Here are a few key lessons that I think are highlighted in this movie:

1.       Be a Jack of all trades before being master of “one”
          Apneko fulltoos doctor banne ka hai, specialist nahin; Gale ke doctor ko pata nahin ghutne mein kya chal raha hai.  (I want to be a complete doctor, not a specialist; e.g. Throat doctor doesn’t know what is going on with knee)

This is one of my favorite dialogues from this movie. I take pride in being a family physician and I know excellent specialists and super-specialists who do take a holistic approach in treating patients. There are, however, specialists who would not want to carry on conversation with a patient beyond their specialty organ. As exaggerated as this statement is, it tries to drive home the need for holistic approach by physicians.

2.       Treat the patient, Not the disease
             Subject bole to, naam nahin hai kya? (Subject? Doesn’t he have a name?)

There is a scene in the movie when MunnaBhai asks the patient to be addressed by his name rather than “case” or “subject”. I am guilty of this too. Until, I found my mentor, Dr.Blackwelder, I was used to referring the patients as “Bed No.” or by their diagnosis during clinical discussions and grand rounds. He taught me the importance of respect and dignity for patients and the difference you can make in patient’s life when you treat “Mr. Anand” compared to the “subject in vegetative state”.

3.       Don’t be shy: Use the magic words
           Patients jab theek hoke jaate hai, sab doctors ko thank you bolte hai. Main tumko thank you bolna chahta hoon Mansookhbhai… (When patients get better and leave, they thank the doctor. I want to say “thanks” to you Mansookhbhai…)

One of the important things I learned from Dr.Blackwelder was to thank and apologize in timely manner and be appreciative of the nursing and multidisciplinary staff.  There was recent study conducted by Women’s Development Studies in New Delhi, that corroborates this fact. You can read an article recently published in Indian Express on exploitation of Indian nurses here.  The Mansookhbhai in the movie is not angry at MunnaBhai in particular but most of the time we don’t wait for a split second to realize that and respond back with words that are angrier.

Also, as physicians, we all have our share of angry patients or their family members. There are times when patients are angry at situations beyond our control. Instead of getting into confrontation or argument, a simple apology can calm the situation and open doors for conversation.

4.       It pays to know your patient as person
           Carrom ramvanu, juice pivanu, majja ni life. (Play Carrom, drink juice, fun-filled life)

Although overdramatized, there is a scene where Mr. Rustom Sr. is brought to the hospital with weakness and gets started on IV fluids. Knowing the outcome of the patient from movie, I would like to guess that he was suffering from malnutrition and probably depression. Both of these problems are quite common in geriatric patients and need a multidisciplinary approach. It pays to know the social history of patient and their support system for better outcome.

5.       Kindness is contagious
          Jaadu ki jhappi (Magical hug)

Kindness (jaadu ki jhappi) is definitely not overrated. Towards the end of the film, Jaadu ki jhappi seems to have been caught as a movement amongst medical students as well as the ancillary staff. Let’s teach medical students the importance of empathy and equip them with the much needed communication skills.  Lets become role models for the medical students of today so they can become better physicians tomorrow. Do read “Acts of Kindness Spread Surprisingly Easily: Just a Few People Can Make a Difference.” 

Moreover, significant evidence exists that doctors with good communication skills tend to enjoy better patient loyalty, patient satisfaction and better treatment outcomes. With medical litigations on rise in India, there is a strong case to make communication skills training a mandatory part of medical education curriculum. 

Care more for the individual patient than for the special features of the disease. . . . Put yourself in his place . . . The kindly word, the cheerful greeting, the sympathetic look — these the patient understands. –Sir William Osler