Hektoen International

A Journal of Medical Humanities

The Christian Medical College Hospital, Vellore

Preeti Shanbag
Mumbai, India 

The Christian Medical College

The Christian Medical College Hospital was founded by Ida Sophia Scudder in 1900, in response to a calling. Daughter of a North American missionary couple working in India, she was born in Tindivanum in south India in 1870. Her earliest experiences of India were of the terrible famine of the 1880s and the resulting devastation and death. Ida decided there was no way she was going to leave the comforts of life in America to work here.1

On a fateful night in 1890, when visiting her parents in India, the young Ida was asked to help three young women struggling in difficult childbirth. She offered the services of her father, John Scudder, a medical doctor. However, prevailing custom prevented the families from accepting the help of a male doctor. The next morning Ida learnt that all three women had died. The tragedy shook Ida and she believed it to be a challenge set before her by God to minister to the health needs of the people of India, particularly women and children.1

She returned to America, where she enrolled in the Women’s Medical College of Pennsylvania. She completed her training in 1899 at Cornell University Medical College, where she was among its first batch of women medical students.1

In 1900, she returned to Vellore, where her father was then a missionary. She was armed with $1000 donated by a wealthy New Yorker who heard her impassioned plea to help the women of India. She started with a one-bed clinic for women and children. This soon grew to the 40-bed Mary Taber Schell Hospital, named after the donor’s wife. This original site now houses the ophthalmic department of the hospital. The main campus shifted to its present site in 1924, and treatment extended to the whole family.2

In 1909, Ida Scudder started her “Roadside” clinics using a tiny French Puegot, the first motor car seen in that part of the country.  Over the years this outreach program expanded and is now the Rural Unit for Health and Social Affairs (RUHSA), providing public health services to a vast area.

Ida was deeply distressed by the prevailing tenets that denied women a role in society. This resulted in her second epiphany. She decided that the best way to empower women was by educating and training them. Despite a severe lack of trained faculty and resources, she started a training program for nurses, which expanded to a nursing school in 1909, and was further upgraded to a nursing college, India’s first, in 1946. Post-graduate degree courses in nursing started in 1969.2

Never satisfied, she founded in 1918 the Union Mission Medical School for training women physicians, beginning with seventeen girls. However in 1938, the government decreed that medical degrees could only be granted by universities and that medical diplomas granted otherwise would be considered invalid. Despite widespread scepticism, Ida travelled the length and breadth of the United States raising money and enlisting new faculty with advanced degrees to secure the necessary upgrade of both the college and hospital. MBBS courses were started in 1942, and the college was opened to men in 1947. Medical post-graduate courses began in 1950.1

Dr. Ida Scudder staffed Vellore with a team of doctors from many countries and from all parts of India. Some of the people who played an important role in the early development of the college were Dr. Theodore Somervell and Dr. Paul Brand, both British surgeons; Dr. Edward Gault, an Australian surgeon and pathologist; Dr. Victor Rambo, an eye surgeon; and Dr. Mary Verghese, an Indian specialist in Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation.2

During her lifetime, Ida Scudder saw her medical centre become one of the largest in Asia and the largest Christian hospital in the world, with more than 2000 beds. Its medical college today is one of the premier institutes in the country, offering more than 150 recognised training programs in the medical, nursing, and allied health fields, including PhD programs. The hospital serves over 2000 inpatients and 5000 outpatients per day, with almost 120 departments or units, with 67 wards and 92 out-patient clinics. The community programs run by the hospital besides RUHSA are Community Health and Development (CHAD) and Low Cost Effective Care Unit (LCECU), which provide comprehensive health care particularly to those residing in the slums.2

The Christian Medical College Hospital has been a pioneer of several clinical specialties and has been at the forefront of research relevant to the health needs of the country. It houses the South Asian Cochrane Network and Centre, the Infectious Diseases Training and Research Centre, and the Stem Cell Research Centre.2 Its  commitment to the disadvantaged and marginalised is complemented by its record of clinical excellence, including many firsts: the first nursing college in India, the first reconstructive surgery for leprosy patients anywhere in the world in 1945, the first open-heart surgery in India in 1961, and many more.

Through more than a century the Christian Medical College Hospital, Vellore has been a place of healing and a way of life for the thousands who have walked through its portals: patients, students, and staff. The legacy of “Aunt Ida”, as she was fondly known, continues today through the hundreds of graduates and postgraduates of the institution for whom being a medical professional has always been a calling “Not to be ministered unto, but to minister.”


  1. Changing the Face of Medicine Dr. Ida Sophia Scudder. Available at: www.nlm.nih.gov/changingthefaceofmedicine/…/biography_290.html. Accessed on 2 January 2015.
  2. Introducing CMC – Christian Medical College.  Available at: www.cmch-vellore.edu/pdf/introducing%20cmc.pdf. Accessed on 4 January 2015

PREETI SHANBAG was an undergraduate and post-graduate alumnus of the Christian Medical College & Hospital, Vellore. After completing her postgraduation in Pediatrics in 1987, she has been working in Mumbai in various faculty  positions in Pediatrics. Her special interests are Pediatric Nephrology and Pediatric Intensive Care. She is also Secretary of the Kidney Foundation for Children, a non-profit organisation which works for children with kidney disease.

Spring 2015



Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.