"Don't we get a chance to come back and serve our country?": Confusion continues for Philippines FMGs

Even though the new NMC circular grants relaxation to the FMGs, the ones in the Philippines allege that the rules are still unclear and their degree is at stake.
Source: TNIE
Source: TNIE

Whilst the problems of Foreign Medical Graduates (FMGs) were recently clarified by the Under Graduate Medical Education Board (UGMEB) of the National Medical Commission (NMC), there still exists some confusion and disappointment as the FMGs currently pursuing their six-year Bachelor of Science (BS) plus Doctor of Medicine (MD) degree from the Philippines, say that they are oscillating between feelings of uncertainties, doubts and hope when it comes to the notification released by the NMC on December 11, 2023.

With the onset of the pandemic and the inconstancy of circumstances provoked by the war, FMGs were forced to resort to online medical learning, which previously the Indian medical board said that they would not recognise, but after an announcement of relaxations, the students studying at the Philippines are still finding themselves in a quagmire. "The decision is unfair and our degree still stands invalidated if we ever choose to go back to our country to pursue our profession. Won't we get the chance to go back to our country and serve the people?" says Samunder Singh, a student pursuing his MD from the Philippines.

But why does their degree stand invalidated?
According to the notification by the UGMEB released on December 11, 2023, when it comes to the students who come under the discretion of the FMGL (Foreign Medical Graduate Licentiate) 2021, the notification lay down a few mandatory criteria as to why and how the medical board will recognise their degree. EdexLive spoke to a few students and here is what was inferred: 

1) The students say that their degree is in tandem with the US pattern of medicine where students have to pursue a two-year mandatory Bachelor of Sciences course followed by a four-year MD course that would give them the affiliation of being a medical practitioner, but according to the FMGL 2021 screening regulations, only a course that spanned not more than 4.5 years will be recognised.

But the matter was rectified soon, as the December 11 notification declared that the old screening test regulations of the year 2002 shall remain applicable to the students who took admission to the medical course, before November 2021.

2) But a certain clause that was added to the statement says, "The old screening test regulation 2002 shall remain applicable to the students who were studying BS courses or had taken admission in BS courses and were physically studying at the time of publication..."

The above declaration warrants students to have been physically present on and after November 18, 2021, which the students deem as an insensible decision. Samunder Singh Rajpurohit, who is now pursuing his MD second year, says, "The ban on international travel was removed around April 2022, even the Indian embassies in the Philippines were closed. How were we supposed to be physically present there?"

He goes on to say that most of the students could only return to the Philippines by September 2022. Samunder, with another medical student named Harsh Pandey, who is also pursuing a similar degree and is in his second year of MD, says that a theoretical study does not mandate a compulsory physical presence and can be pursued via online classes, unlike MD. "The NMC had granted mercy exemption to Indian medical students then why not us? Why are we being alienated?" they demand.

Pandey complains that if the rules were to be compulsorily mandated then why were they not informed earlier about the notification? "I joined the course in September 2020 and was under the discretion of a different set of regulations. The sudden imposition of new rules after we have joined the course puts us in a tumultuous position as we were unaware of it."

Further, these students will not be able to complete their internship as they will be ineligible to practice medicine in India due to the unfulfillment of the criteria.

Why the continued complication?
As Indian students in the Philippines grew anxious, they sought help from the Embassy of India in Manila. Soon, to ease their situation, a notification was released by the Embassy of India in Manila which stated that the NMC, "has confirmed the applicability of these regulations and conveyed that students currently pursuing BS course and will commence medical degree course (MD) only after 18 November 2021 would require a special dispensation/relaxation from NMC."

According to a report on the news portal Medical Dialogues, NMC had already turned down the request of the embassy to accept the BS course as a part of their undergraduate medical education curriculum.

Singh, who had decided to pursue a medical degree from abroad after a series of futile attempts at NEET UG (National Eligibility cum Entrance Test Undergraduate) exams that could not fetch him his desired college, says that this has pushed his career to the brink as there has been no concrete decision taken about the issue.

Samunder, in a desperate plea for help, says that the students want one one-time major exemption as they were in circumstances beyond their control. "The situation was out of our control and if we are not at fault then why this punishment?"

Is hope still alive?
According to Harsh Pandey, the students are hopeful that the NMC will soon decide the matter at hand but knows nothing of the long wait that may ensue. "I feel that this will be rectified but the situation of uncertainty is boggling."

He also adds that the regulation is certainly appreciable as it would keep a check on the quality of doctors but how is it justified that the rule published in the year 2021 is applied to the students who took admission before that?

They urge the government for a quick resolution. The students say that there are ongoing cases in India and there might be a decision soon.

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