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Arts & Science Program

Dr. P.K. Rangachari

P K Rangachari
Faculty of Health Sciences, Michael DeGroote Centre for Learning and Discovery – 3300H
905-525-9140 ext. 21559
Office Hours:
Mondays 9:30-10:20am

Dr. P.K. Rangachari is Professor (Emeritus) of Medicine, who returned to Arts & Science in 2019-20 to teach ARTSSCI 4CT3 / Medical Humanities Inquiry.

I was lucky that I grew up in India, a statement that may raise serious concerns about my sanity but is nevertheless true. I did not suffer summer camps, obligatory sports clubs, or orchestrated social activities. Only a delightful sense of freedom. I doubt if I would have survived a North American childhood without serious counselling. I was a true JD. At the age of 10, I found myself wandering parks rather than attending classes, since we had no truant officers cross-checking our whereabouts. My parents were quite distraught, but fortunately that delinquent phase passed, and I quickly morphed into a bookish nerd just as I reached high school (see Adv. Physiology Educ. 35:323-9, 2011).

I drifted into a medical school, though I had little or no social skills, had no desperate desire to help people, save the world or do good to man or beast. A series of muddles derailed my attempts to get into a chemistry programme at Delhi University, so I joined a pre-med course. Fortunately, I entered the All-India Institute of Medical Sciences, New Delhi (1966), which was then the very best medical school in the country. I had marvellous teachers who showed me the excitement and fascination of scientific research. Following my internship, I went to the U of Alberta to complete my PhD in pharmacology, and from there to the Cardiovascular Research Institute (CVRI) in San Francisco. The Nixon-Kissinger-Watergate years were exciting times to live in the US, particularly in California, and the research atmosphere was exhilarating. But a J-1 visa was a limiting factor and my Wanderjahre continued—Hopitaux Necker and Bichat, Paris, Delhi University, Beth Israel Hospital, Harvard Medical School—till I finally settled at McMaster University in 1983, my sanctuary for more than half my professional life.

My scientific research has dealt largely with ion transport across both symmetrical and polarised cells. The Intestinal Diseases Research program brought together physiologists, pharmacologists, immunologists and clinicians and proved an exciting place to work.  I was supported by the Canadian Heart Foundation, Canadian Cystic Fibrosis Foundation and largely by the Medical Research Council (the forerunner of CIHR). Before coming to Mac, I had never heard of problem-based learning (PBL) and was both amused and sceptical of what I thought was a ludicrous approach to teaching. That changed when I saw tutorial groups in action and realized the enormous promise of letting students take charge. My professional life underwent a phase transition as I became more involved in teaching. I have taught in a variety of programmes, undergraduates (life sciences, health sciences, Arts and Science), medicine, nursing, physiotherapy, pharmacy and biomedical engineering.

Though I am by profession, a basic bio-medical scientist, I have sought to bridge the two cultures (the sciences and the humanities) by actively designing courses that attempt to span this gulf or encouraging students to express their learning through more creative outlets (conversations, stories, plays, poems). My courses have linked toxicology with creative writing, taste receptors with anthropology and my students have used archival material to deconstruct the antecedents of medical technology. I want my students to be like pluripotent stem cells (“educatoblasts”), capable of flourishing in multiple settings.

My peer-reviewed publications span both basic sciences and education. I have organized teaching symposia for diverse professional societies (ASPET, APS and IUPHAR) and participated in workshops on problem-based learning in countries in six of the seven continents. I have co-authored several books, including Problem-Based Learning in Medicine (David, Patel, Burdett, Rangachari) and Students Matter: The Rewards of University Teaching (SIU School of Medicine), edited with Kevin Dorsey, which has been translated into Japanese and Chinese. I have received a number of teaching awards: 3M Fellowship, OCUFA award, McMaster University President’s Award, Claude Bernard Lectureship from the American Physiological Society, IUPHAR-Teaching Award, and several MSU awards.

Much as Larkin felt about churches, I feel that the University is “a serious place on serious earth,” in “whose blent air, all our compulsions meet, are recognized and robed as destinies.” We, as teachers, should help our students revel in the richness of the past and prepare them for exciting but uncertain futures.