Having been in the medical profession for almost four decades I have been deeply saddened by the sad state of affairs of medical education in this country and the tremendous injustice done to young students aspiring to become doctors and serve the society. There has been a sad and slow demise of merit and a steady rise of money power in getting admissions into Medical Colleges. It would not be wrong to say that Goddess Saraswathi has been unceremoniously replaced by Goddess Lakshmi in this field.
When we were students we had our PUC or equivalent marks and were awarded a medical seat based on that merit and life was simple. However this changed drastically in subsequent years for many reasons and many a time for the wrong reasons.
There always was a huge discrepancy between the students aspiring to be doctors and the number of seats available and this led to the mushrooming of a large number of medical colleges, mostly in the private sector and then began the harrowing experience for medical students. They then had to take dozens of entrance exams with the dates sometimes clashing with each other, in different cities by different medical colleges, consortium’s, minority institutions, deemed universities so on and so forth in each state. This unfortunately was not the end of the story.
Many a time these entrance exams were used to manipulate the system into selling the seats to the highest bidder in collusion with the authorities concerned and most often resulted in merit taking a back seat. It was truly a travesty of justice and a fraud committed on innocent students who had put their hearts and souls into getting into medicine and then got cheated by these manipulations. It would be unfair to tarnish the name of all medical colleges with the same brush and we have to acknowledge that many medical colleges have had a fair selection criterion and have helped produce excellent doctors.
The danger of students getting in by paying huge capitation fees is that it may encourage them to indulge in corrupt and unethical practices to regain the money spent in getting a seat. After all there has to a reasonable ROI in any business!
There was a ray of hope when a national eligibility and entrance exam- NEET was proposed a few years ago but it was challenged in the Supreme Court and the decision was stalled. A review by the honorable court this time has asked the government to implement the national entrance exam which would certainly create a level playing field for all students concerned.Certainly, the key would be a satisfactory, honest and corruption-free implementation of this which is sure to be our biggest challenge especially since the numbers of students taking this exam will be huge and time is very short. The transition period for implementing this exam in the current year would be a challenge as dozens of entrance exams have to be scrapped and a new exam set up with very little time for the management and students to respond.
Be that as it may, this is a land mark judgement and truly a giant leap forward in bringing success and justice to meritorious students. I do hope this is just the beginning and we will see similar exams for post-graduate entrances too.
However, there are still many wrinkles that need to be ironed out. The problems of differential fee structure remains and a consensus must be reached regarding fixing the fees. If needed, a graded fee structure based on merit and infrastructure of the college could be worked out. In all fairness, the promoters who have huge investments in these colleges should have avenues to recover costs but not at the cost of merit.
Interestingly The National Board Exams (DNB ) for post-graduate studies has the equivalent of NEET and one of the best non-corrupt systems of entry and exit exams in the country, the model is working quite well. We do need to address the root cause of all this which is the huge demand (aspirants for medical colleges) and the supply (number of medical seats available) gap, which can only be solved by opening many more medical colleges of repute, if need be with a PPP model.
All in all, I am glad the first round of this long drawn battle between Goddesses Lakshmi and Saraswathi has been won by Goddess Saraswathi, thanks to Judicial activism by the Honourable Supreme Court.
Dr. H Sudarshan Ballal, MD, FRCP (London)
Chairman – Med Adv Board & Medical Director – MHEPL,
Manipal Hospitals, 98, HAL Airport Road, Bangalore-560017
Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are of the writer and not of the hospital.