Free online portal Prashna India encourages students of surgery to ask questionsShinjini Chowdhury
Prashna India is a website that invites students to post their questions that are answered by a panel of experts.
Back in the day, when Dr VK Kapoor was a medical student at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), Delhi, there were 50 students and 400 teachers at the institute. With that arrangement, questions never ran a chance of going unanswered.
Now, however, with around 400 odd medical colleges in the country offering MBBS and MD degrees, and some more licensed to provide a Diplomate of National Board (DNB), students have lesser space to have their doubts clarified. “Students can ask questions in lectures or conferences,” says 60-year-old Dr V K Kapoor, a teacher and surgeon of gastroenterology at Sanjay Gandhi Postgraduate Institute of Medical Sciences, Lucknow, India.
But, in lectures, there is one teacher for every 200 students. In conferences, students feel shy to ask questions because they fear they might be laughed at by their peers.
In such a context of medical learning, Dr Kapoor and his wife, Lily Kapoor, launched Prashna India in April 2015.
Prashna India is a free website for students of surgery that invites them to post their questions. These questions are sent to pre-identified subject matter experts and the subsequent answers are moderated based on content and length before being posted on the website. Topics include colorectal, oesophageal, pancreatic, oncological, and trauma cases among many others.
More than 70 teachers and doctors offer their expertise to the website from all over the country. Around 250 students of general surgery are registered, and an average of one question is answered every day on the website. The website itself receives more than 100 views each day. Questions are classified according to topics and can be viewed by anyone. However, Prashna India is meant only for training and teaching, not for guiding patient management.
The website is managed by Lily. She classifies the questions, receives answers, and posts these online. Her dedication to the cause is round the clock.
Ru-ba-ru are interactive sessions where students engage in live, online sessions with subject matter experts. They present cases and are cross-questioned in the nature of a viva-voce. Thus, Prashna India and its team of teachers prepares learners not only for their medical practice, but also for their examinations. So far, 25 such sessions have been conducted. One Ru-ba-ru session saw 45 students from 22 centres countrywide being connected to one teacher over Skype.
We provide students with recordings of these sessions as well, but only if they ask. They must ask if they want to learn, says Dr Kapoor in the spirit of a true teacher.
An interactive future
Prashna India plans to always remain free and not-for-profit. Currently, it is hosted on a free online platform with limited services. To broaden its scope, Dr Kapoor has decided to approach governmental organisations, pharmaceutical companies, NGOs interested in education and others for sponsorship. He wants to offer his expert panel a fitting remuneration and to expand the website’s scope to other developing countries which face a similar gap between learning needs and the available teaching resources.
The website will grow from its current scope of general surgery to include medical specialities and superspecialities, provide books and medical journals for free or for a subscription, and will eventually also be accessible through an app for portable devices. That apart, Dr Kapoor and Lily want to introduce a special sub-portal where MBBS students can ask various questions about medical sciences. Their aim is to increase the number of live classes to two or three a day.