Published: 30th August 2022
Medical fraternity taken for a ride: Students, doctors lash out against postponement of NEET PG counselling
The counselling was set to begin on September 1. However, it has now been delayed and the NMC says a fresh schedule will be decided after September 15
The National Medical Commission (NMC) and the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare (MoHFW) have invited major criticism and backlash from the medical fraternity and the students who attempted the National Eligibility-cum-Entrance Test Postgraduation (NEET PG) exam this year after postponing the counselling for the exam which was scheduled to begin on September 1.
In a notice yesterday, August 29, mere three days before the counselling was set to begin, the NMC said that it was in the process of issuing new Letters of Permission (LoPs) to colleges in order to add more PG medical seats. "Hence in order to include more seats the counselling for the benefit of the candidates, it has been decided by the competent authority to reschedule the NEET PG Counselling 2022 which was scheduled to commence from 01/09/2022," said the NMC in its notice.
Is it benefitting? Students don't think so
However, students who attempted the NEET PG exam this year hardly view it as "benefitting" them. "Students are anxious. Thousands of students have emailed and messaged me saying they are facing psychological trauma. They have been jobless for months now. The exam was conducted on May 21. The result was out on June 1 and still, the NMC has not commenced the counselling. They say they are approving the LoPs. What took so long? In the end, it is the doctors and the patients who will suffer," says Dr Rohan Krishnan, President of the Federation of All India Medical Association (FAIMA).
Students are also taking an adverse view of this decision given the fact that the NMC refused to postpone the exam by a few weeks on the demands of the students on grounds that they did not wish the medical calendar to be delayed, and wanted the schedule back on track after two years of COVID-19 related issues. The NMC also told the Supreme Court, during the hearing of a petition filed by students to postpone the exam that the well-being of the patients should be of utmost importance and delay in the conduct of the exam would impact the medical workforce.
What are they to do?
"This is costing students mentally, physically and economically. We are unable to decide if we should wait for the counselling or start working a job. They should have heard us before the exam and postponed it by a few weeks. We would have had a better chance to prepare. My rank is 50,000, and I want to study MD Medicine. I'm just waiting for the counselling now to see if I can get a seat in a private college. I am not ready to study again, and I feel completely depressed," rues Dr Prabhu Malhotra, a NEET PG aspirant from Uttar Pradesh, Bareilly.
Last year, the NEET PG Counselling was delayed due to an ongoing case in the Supreme Court challenging reservation under the 50% All-India Quota for students from the Economically Weaker Sections (EWS) and the Other Backward Classes (OBC) categories. Junior doctors took to the streets in protest decrying the crunch in the medical workforce due to the delay in counselling, which they said was exacerbating the burden of the workload for them.
"It's happening again already. Doctors are being required to give the patients a later date of surgery because we are understaffed. Less than one-third of the workforce is available yet again. This is delay is extremely detrimental to the healthcare system. We are looking for an appointment with Health Minister Mansukh Mandaviya and the Directorate of General Health Services (DGHS) to demand that the counselling begin as soon as possible," Dr Krishnan adds.
No one knows
Reiterating the pressure on resident doctors due to delay in the NEET PG counselling, Advocate Anubha Shrivastava who represented the students demanding the postponement of the NEET PG exam earlier this year, suggests that it is time for the Prime Minister's Office to intervene.
"Doctors will be out on the roads protesting again. The undergraduate medical degree, which is a five-year programme, now drags on for at least six years for the students because the exam and the counselling process take up an entire year. There is no coordination between NMC and exam conducting bodies. Nobody is aware. The Education Minister is also responsible for the state of affairs right now. How many times should students approach the court? The Supreme Court has clearly said that counselling should begin on time. The least they can do right now is increase manpower and expedite the counselling process and finish it in one month," she tells EdexLive.
What about National Exit Test?
In fact, students who curated that petition in the Supreme Court earlier this year submit that it is unlikely the academic schedule for medical PG will be back on track any time soon. The National Exit Test, which had been proposed by the NMC from January 2023 as a single qualifying test for undergraduate doctors in India instead of the NEET PG and the Foreign Medical Graduates Examination (FMGE) is not likely to happen next year as the NMC has hinted that the particulars of the test are not in place yet.
Students say that NEET PG might also be contested in January 2023, as students from 20 states are unlikely to have completed the mandatory one-year internship period by March 2023, which is the cut-off if the exam is to be conducted in January. "We collected this data to submit in court when the NMC said that they wanted to get the academic schedule back on track. Students from these 20 states are set to complete their one-year internship by May or June," says Richa Gupta, a NEET PG aspirant from Madhya Pradesh.
Students paint a grim picture of uncertainty and hopelessness. They say that the medical fraternity has been taken for a ride by the bodies in charge. Gupta adds that with the counselling delayed by almost four months since the release of the results, it will now impact students who will have to prepare for the NEET PG 2023. "If they intend to conduct it in January, that leaves students with just two months to study, because the counselling process will stretch on for two months at least, and it is not possible to focus and study during that time," she adds.