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Caithness Surgeon Given Prestigious Award

22nd May 2008

Photograph of Caithness Surgeon Given Prestigious Award

A retired surgeon from Caithness has been given a prestigious award for his contribution to teaching surgery. Mr Pradip Datta, 68 set up his world renowned course in 1981, one year after starting work at Caithness General Hospital. He continues to teach in Scotland and India three years after his retirement. Thousands of aspiring surgeons from across the world have taken their first step on the career ladder thanks to Mr Datta and in recognition of this he will receive the Farquharson Award at a ceremony at the Royal College of Surgeons in Edinburgh in November.

Mr Datta said: "I was absolutely delighted to hear that I was to receive the Farquharson Award. It is the only award for teaching given by the Royal College of Surgeons and I was really moved to hear that they wanted to recognise my work this way."

Caithness locality manager for NHS Highland Pauline Craw welcomed Mr Datta's award. She said: "We are all extremely proud of Pradip Datta's achievements and are delighted to see them recognised. He put Caithness General Hospital on the map for surgical training and ensured we had a constant stream of talented, young surgeons coming to treat our patients."

Pradip Datta's career in the NHS spans five decades. He travelled to the UK from India in 1967 and discovered it was very difficult for overseas doctors to get a place on a course which would help them to pass the Fellowship of the Royal College of Surgeons (FRCS). Mr Datta gained his own FRCS in 1969, trained in hospitals across England and entered a Consultant post at Caithness General in 1980 where he was able to attract a steady stream of both doctors in training and permanent staff by setting up the Caithness Final FRCS course.

The FRCS examination and its successor the MRCS, is an in-depth theory, oral and clinical examination where doctors are put on the spot and grilled on their knowledge of anatomy and surgery for three hours. Daunting for any doctor it is especially hard for those for whom English is not their first language but Mr Datta has gained an international reputation for supporting students to develop the confidence they needed to impress examiners. Mr Datta said: "My course is tough. There are no lectures. They see slides and x-rays and clinical photographs and I ask questions. If they don't get it right they have to repeat it again and again until they do. Students say it helps them to come out of their shells and prove that they are ready to move on with their careers. I give them as much time as they need. Some take a few weeks and others a few months. Most graduates of the course went on to pass the FRCS and now the MRCS. "

The success of Mr Datta's course in Wick led the national training body NHS Education for Scotland (NES) to ask him to run it in Edinburgh as well. In 2001 he was one of three finalists for the Silver Scalpel Award for UK Surgical Trainer of the Year.

Most of Mr Datta's students are from Asia, Africa and the Middle East but the distance to Wick or Edinburgh doesn't put them off. "One of my students was a doctor from Darfur in Sudan who started the journey to Wick on a donkey. He travelled thousands of miles to reach the Far North of Scotland so he could get a foothold on a career in surgery. Everyone who attends the Wick course does so by word of mouth and it has always been over subscribed. It has been good for Caithness General and our patients too as we have never had a shortage of junior doctors. "

The Farquharson Award is named after the legendary surgeon and author of a key text book, Eric Leslie Farquharson. Remarkably Mr Farquharson would have tested Mr Datta for the very exam he went on to prepare students. In a letter to Mr Datta, Mr Farquharson's daughter Margaret, who is also a surgeon, said: "I know how much you have done for the teaching and training of young surgeons and my father would have been so pleased that it has been awarded to you. It also somehow completes the circle of your FRCS examination with my father in 1969 and your help and encouragement to me over the recent edition of his textbook."

In 2000 Mr Datta was elected to the Council of the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh and was re-elected last year to serve until 2012. In 2003 the Council elected him to the post of Honorary Secretary of the College, a position he held for 4 years.

Mr Datta does not benefit financially from his teaching. Donations and fees are given to a number of charities including Macmillan, Save the Children and Women in Need - a colony for women with leprosy in India. Mr Datta and his wife are also keen supporters of the Scottish arts.

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