NEET-PG 2023: What does “zero” cutoff percentile in counselling actually mean?

The decision was taken after  receiving representation from a few medical associations who urged a reduction in the NEET-PG cut-off citing a huge number of vacant seats
Read details here | (Photo: Edex Live)
Read details here | (Photo: Edex Live)

The “zero” percentile cut-off in the National Eligibility Entrance Test-Postgraduate (NEET-PG) 2023 counselling has been a point of debate for the medical community in India for over a week now.

Ever since the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare (MoHFW) reduced the cut-off percentile to zero for NEET-PG 2023 counselling via a notification dated Wednesday, September 20, doctors, experts and NEET-PG aspirants have been on conflicting ground about how it would affect the healthcare sector.

On one hand, while the move ensures that all vacant PG medical seats will be filled this year, the decision has also drawn criticism as many feel mediocre medical students will secure seats in specialised postgraduate courses jeopardising public health.

The decision was taken after receiving representation from a few medical associations who urged a reduction in the NEET-PG cut-off citing a huge number of vacant seats. Associations like the Indian Medical Association (IMA) and United Doctors Front Association (UDFA) have supported the move citing that it would ensure that none of the non-clinical seats go wasted.

Here is what having “zero” cut-off percentile really means, as per Dr Sharad Agarwal, National President, IMA.

“Zero” cut off percentile

By lowering the cut-off percentile to zero, the Medical Counselling Committee (MCC) has allowed anyone who appeared for the exam to be eligible for the counselling process.

While factually, this might be the case, it still does not mean that a candidate with zero percentile score would be able to get a PG medical seat.

“The term ‘zero percentile’ has sparked a big debate among the medical community. In its place, if the MCC had said that all candidates are eligible to appear for counselling process, or that it is going to conduct open counselling, the response would have been different,” said Dr Sharad Agarwal.

Medicos had pointed out that this year, the lowest score recorded in the NEET PG 2023 is minus 40 this year, and even a candidate with negative marks in the entrance exam will be able to sit for the counselling process.

When asked about these concerns, Dr Agarwal said “We have to understand that stating 'zero percentile' as the cut-off does not mean that people with zero percentile will get seats. There are about 66,000 PG seats and more than two lakh candidates. If the seats are distributed on a merit basis, as the government will ensure, it does not create any issues even in private medical colleges.”

Counselling for non-clinical seats

The doctors’ associations had written to the NMC and the Union Health Ministry in light of a large number of non-clinical seats being left vacant even after the first two rounds of counselling. This situation is not a new one, every year around 600-800 postgraduate medical seats go to waste because students do not want to take up para-clinical and non-clinical courses and skip admission.

This is because the non-clinical courses do not offer an opportunity to practise specialised medicine and instead make them qualified to become educationists or teachers in medical colleges.

“The problem is larger than medical PG seats being left vacant. Most of the clinical seats have already been filled in the first few rounds and what is left now are seats for non-clinical and para-clinical courses. None of the students above 50 percentile score want to take up these seats and if this continues, we will not have enough medical professors in the coming years. Every year, the number of medical colleges are increasing but what is the point when there is no faculty?” expressed Dr Agarwal.

He added that allowing candidates who were earlier not eligible for these seats to take part in the counselling only ensures that these seats will be filled by deserving and meritorious students instead of going vacant.

Best out of best examination

Another point that Dr Sharad Agarwal highlighted is that all candidates appearing for the NEET-PG exam are qualified MBBS doctors.

“We have to keep in mind that NEET-PG is a 'best out of best' exam as all the candidates are qualified MBBS doctors. All of these candidates have passed all 27 medical subjects with at least 50 per cent score in MBBS. Allowing them seats does not mean jeopardising the healthcare system. These people are part of the healthcare system. They are the ones who will be serving and treating patients in rural areas at a PHC level,” he explained.

On the other hand, he agreed that there is a requirement for entrance exams for admission into PG medical colleges for screening purposes on a merit basis.

One-time relaxation?

As there has not been any official notification from the NMC or Ministry of Health and Family Welfare making this a permanent feature, the zero percentile cut-off is expected to be a one-time relaxation measure only.

Dr Sharad Agarwal said, “Though this is a one-time feature only, it is necessary that the NMC comes up with a permanent solution as well. Of course, having an entrance exam and a definite cut-off is important. Alternatively, the government can look into changing the exam pattern and making it a mix of easy, medium and difficult-level questions so more candidates are able to score better.”

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