Lives of the fellows

Vikit Viranuvatti

b.1923 d.2001
FRCP(1970) FRCP Glas(1970) FRACP(1972) FACP(1972)

Vikit Viranuvatti (‘Adjarn Vikit’) was the founder of gastroenterology in Thailand and a pioneer of modern medicine. Born into a middle class family with Thai/Chinese roots, he was educated in Bangkok at Dhebsirin School, getting the highest marks in the country when he matriculated in 1938. Winning a government scholarship, he studied medicine at the Siriraj School of Medicine, graduating with the King’s gold medal. He then travelled to the USA, where he did an internship at Mount Vernon Hospital in New York. This was followed by further training while reading for an MD in public health and tropical medicine at Tulane University in New Orleans, where he was later recognised as an outstanding alumnus and his thesis won the ‘best thesis’ award.

On his return to Thailand, he joined the staff of the Siriraj Hospital, specialising in gastroenterology. At the age of 38, he became the country’s youngest professor of medicine. He was particularly interested in liver diseases, especially cirrhosis and hepatocellular carcinoma but he also carried out work in the field that he termed ‘tropical gastroenterology’. At that time there were many instances of gastric problems caused by nutritional deficiencies and also by parasites. He often lectured abroad on these topics using his impressive collection of slides, and during the Vietnam War he was often consulted by the American military doctors due to his expertise in diseases of the tropics.

Viranuvatti also did much to advance his subject in his own country by producing several popular textbooks in Thai – notably Hints on gastroenterology for medical students, interns, residents and physicians (1966) and the Handbook on gastroenterology (1967). Unusually among his fellow countrymen, he was also invited to contribute chapters to many important international textbooks.

He had a reputation for dealing diplomatically with the difficult political situation in Thailand at the time and, when the Thai military dictatorship fell after the Vietnam War, he was instrumental in reconciling the the older faculty members of the university with the returning student rebels.

Retiring from Siriraj as dean of medicine, he continued to write and lecture internationally. Many honours came his way including fellowships of the Royal College of Physicians of Glasgow, the Royal Australasian College of Physicians, the American College of Physicians and the RCP. He also held visiting lectureships in places as far afield as Queensland, Glasgow and Edmonton (Canada).

A convivial man, he entertained guests at his garden parties and dinners by his amateur conjuring tricks. He spoke fluent Chinese and was said to also speak quite well in French and German after a few glasses of wine.

When he died he was survived by his wife, Lady Cha-umsri Viranuvatti, and their daughter, Nathinee Sriyuksiri, who was married to a businessman.

RCP editor

[The Gastroenterological Association of Thailand www.gastrothai.net/eng/about2_memory.php - accessed 21 July 2015]

(Volume XII, page web)

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