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Vision India 2020: Harvard Medical School, India

Posted on Sunday, Aug 24th 2008

As our MIT India project gained its stride, and MIT won tremendous international acclaim for the vision and leadership it demonstrated in promoting open education, the folks at Harvard were feeling jealous. They wanted their own playground to contribute and to show off!

Against that backdrop, we founded our ambitious medical education project aimed at training millions of doctors, enough to make universal, quality healthcare a reality in India.

Harvard Medical School, with its vast resources, became our partner, contributing   breadth of educational content that ranged from the basic to the most advanced in multiple disciplines of medical science. Content included simulations, 3D models, films, lecture videos, virtual reality renditions, and other immersive forms of presentation to teach everything from heart surgery to cancer cell mutation.

Our two partners in the project were, of course, Doctor At Hand and Doctor On Wire.

Doctor At Hand had created an incredible knowledgebase, which we licensed and used to train our students. During the first two years of their training, students were assigned to a village to work at a Doctor At Hand pharmacy for three months each year and shadow a pharmacist.

They spent the rest of their time during those first two years learning theory in a classroom setting, using the superb content developed by Harvard. Some of the curriculum was structured as monitored self-learning, some was distance learning, and some was in-class faculty.

Doctor On Wire, on the other hand, became our training hospitals, with the 20 doctors at each Doctor On Wire hub supporting the hands-on education of 100 students. From years three to five, students shadowed a doctor and developed a specialization.

As we trained thousands of students through this program, these students then helped scale Doctor On Wire. Starting in 2012, every hub produced 100 doctors each year who could support five new hubs.

Who paid for the education of these young doctors? Well, we developed an excellent education finance scheme with HSBC that provided student loans on attractive terms. The loan repayment scheme was also set up directly with Doctor on Wire such that as each student joined as an employee, they were automatically enrolled in a 10-year repayment program.

There were also a series of foundation grants and fellowships. The Gates Foundation gave a major grant to finance the education of 100,000 students. The major pharmaceutical companies each gave grants to support an average of 10,000 students. Our target number for 2020, however, was to train 600,000 doctors to staff 30,000 Doctor On Wire hubs. It was an ambitious goal, but with the help of the various partners we were able to achieve it.

The collaboration with Harvard Medical School also gave us unique advantages. Harvard  sent faculty to spend their sabbaticals at one of the Doctor On Wire hubs. Over time, other universities started doing the same.

We did a surprisingly good job tackling heart and lung problems, eye and ear issues, and  reproductive and pediatric health problems.

Cancer and neurology were harder to address. We had a limited number of doctors trained in cancer treatment. Those who were trained were making such ridiculous amounts of money that it was difficult to attract them to these remote locations.

In 2012, a wonderful white-haired man – an oncologist from Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston – came to us with a proposal.

Dr. Wilson offered to quit Mass General and run a cancer training program for us. His only condition was that we would set up his facility in the heart of the Himalayas.

We established Dr. Wilson’s training center in a small town in Sikkim. It was a truly magical place surrounded by the most magnificent panorama. We sent a group of 100 third-year students to train under Dr. Wilson for the next three years. This group later helped us jump-start the cancer programs at the hubs.

Dr Wilson stayed with us till last year, then returned to Boston. The Sikkim center is now run by one of his favorite students, and is a place where we impart advanced cancer training. Faculty from all over the world like to spend sabbaticals there. After all, it is also a beautiful vacation spot, and those into spirituality enjoy the adjacent Pemayangtse monastery.

In fact, we learned that creating advanced training centers in attractive spots helps us get international faculty. We now have similar centers for cardiac surgery in Almora and neurology in Dharamsala.

In 2020, we have trained 600,000 doctors while also building a profitable, sustainable medical education system for India – our gift, Harvard’s pride.

Note: Vision India 2020 was subsequently published as a book. You can order it from, etc.

A call to Indian entrepreneurs everywhere, Vision India 2020 challenges and inspires readers to build the future now. In this “futuristic retrospective,” author Sramana Mitra shows how over the next decade, start-up companies in India could be turned into billion-dollar enterprises. Vision India 2020, which encompasses a wide range of sectors from technology to infrastructure, healthcare to education, environmental issues to entertainment, proves how even the most sizeable problems can be solved by exercising bold, ambitious measures. Renowned in the business world, author Sramana Mitra conceived Vision India 2020 from her years of experience as a Silicon Valley strategy consultant and entrepreneur. Well aware of the challenges facing today’s aspiring entrepreneurs, Mitra provides strategies, business models, references, and comparables as a guide to help entrepreneurs manifest their own world-changing ideas. 

This segment is a part in the series : Vision India 2020

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Interesting. Did you consider the beneffits of participating in the project, a joint venture between Harvard, Stanford, U. Michigan, and UC Berkeley School of Public Health? And add in Duke with it’s leading the way projects in personalized medicine and prevention.

As to possible centres of excellence in India — in addition to the stereotypical Himalayan locales, are there not internationally attractive spots in Kerala, Vellore, and other strategically sited places one could name?

With appreciation,

Bob Kirk Monday, August 25, 2008 at 4:30 PM PT


I will look into the Medpedia project. Thanks for the pointer.

As for Himalayan locales, I chose them not for their stereotypes, but because I love them. Of course, there is nothing stopping people from setting such centers up in Kerala or elsewhere.

Sramana Mitra Tuesday, August 26, 2008 at 8:49 AM PT

OK, I can understand that as I’m looking out the window as I write this, at the mountains on the West Coast/YVR

Bob Kirk Tuesday, August 26, 2008 at 3:20 PM PT

Sramana, and I would like to apologize for using the word “stereotypical” in my first post… it carries a perjorative that was not intended, but still doesn’t sound out well… sorry about that. 🙂

Bob Kirk Tuesday, August 26, 2008 at 4:58 PM PT

No problem!

Sramana Mitra Wednesday, August 27, 2008 at 8:55 AM PT

Dear Sramana Mitra,

Are The projects Doctor At Hand and Doctor On Wire are already started implementation Or they are still in prototyping .

Also I got confused with your sentence

“In 2012, a wonderful white-haired man – an oncologist from Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston – came to us with a proposal.”

ravikumar Tuesday, April 13, 2010 at 1:14 PM PT

This is a futuristic retrospective, a business fiction.

Sramana Mitra Tuesday, April 13, 2010 at 7:36 PM PT

We are interested in building a hospital cum medical college in Kerala and wish it to be of international standards. Our project work start this year end, 2011 at Palakkad, Kerala.
the plot is of 300 acres. We are building the college in 50 acres,
Now, we would like to know whether you can help us in any way in making this project the best in the world. We want to be at par with Harvard or as its branch, where our students are internationally recognized and well qualified. Please contact us
at Ashtalakshya, Calicut, Kerala. Mr Rajesh: 00919567599236

rajesh Thursday, June 9, 2011 at 12:32 AM PT