Anguish, anger and agitation: NEET PG postponement has medical fraternity vexed

Kerala-based Dr Cyriac Abby Philips, popularly known as TheLiverDoc on X, formerly Twitter, said that in his career as a medical professional, he had not seen anything like this.
The resentment levels are high
The resentment levels are high(Pic: EdexLive Desk)

Travelling from Kurnool in Andhra Pradesh to take her the National Eligibility-cum-Entrance Test - Postgraduate (NEET-PG) exam in Jaipur in Rajasthan, Seetha (name changed) got to know just 10 hours before the prestigious exam that it had been cancelled.

The 23-year-old is in deep shock that her one year's hard work went to waste.

"She is in shock and can't speak. We are trying to motivate her. My parents are very concerned," said her brother, who is also a doctor and doing residency in Rajasthan.

"My cousin, also taking the NEET-PG exam in Kurnool, burst into tears when he learned about the postponement. He was preparing for more than a year. During his preparations, he couldn't sleep and was even taking sleeping pills to sleep. He is crushed," he said, on condition of anonymity.

Shocked, disappointed, and depressed, that's the condition of an estimated two lakh NEET-PG students who got to know on Saturday night, June 22, that the Sunday, June 23, exam of NEET-PG, which is an eligibility-cum-ranking examination prescribed as the single entrance examination for admission to various MD/MS and PG Diploma courses for both Indians and also Non-Resident Indians (NRIs), has been cancelled, for the third time this year.

The New Indian Express spoke to over a dozen aspirants, a few working in hospitals and other medical facilities and a few, jobless. The story is the same.

The initial shock was taken over by anger at the examination system, which can't even hold public examinations, without any malpractice or paper leaks, that decide the fate of lakhs of young students.

A few learned about cancellation when reaching the exam centre; a few found out about it through social media, and others learned about it through media. A few cried, others got drunk, while many stopped taking calls from family, friends, and concerned colleagues. Many also took to social media to slam the government and the authorities for "playing with the lives of young students" and said, "better to leave the country, than stay here."

Many said that after the NEET-UG fiasco, the arbitrary way the PG exam was cancelled shows that medical education in India is a "complete mess."

As some students said they should sue the authorities for causing them psychological and monetary damage, the Federation of Resident Doctors' Association (FORDA) said they are ready to give free psychiatric services to NEET-PG aspirants as news of many suffering from mental trauma emerged.

"The government and the education and health ministry should compensate medical students and PG aspirants. No one is highlighting the mental state of the students. They are making a fool of all of us. Three exams have been postponed back to back. They have taken the education sector for a ride. They should be ashamed," said Dr Dhruv Chauhan, National Council Coordinator of the Indian Medical Association-Junior Doctors Network (IMA-JDN).

The NEET-UG question paper was "leaked" while the NEET-PG, UGC-NET, and CSIR-NET exams were cancelled.

The National Board of Examinations in Medical Sciences (NBE) conducts the NEET-PG exam. Over two lakh MBBS graduates appeared for the computer-based test (CBT) for around 52,000 postgraduation seats nationwide.

Students have to study 20 subjects and attempt a total of 200 MCQ (multiple choice questions) questions.It is a double whammy for Dr Sahifa Harem, a NEET-PG aspirant.

Her brother, Shanawar Hussain, took NEET-UG, and the family is still reeling from the controversy. "Don't know which is more shocking, the UG controversy or the PG exam cancellation.

"She was looking forward to joining Apollo Hospital in Delhi in the paediatrics department on Monday, a day after the scheduled exam. I was working in Lal Bahadur Shastri Hospital. But left it last year in December to concentrate on my studies as initially, the exam was to be held in March, then was postponed to July, and then postponed to June 23. And now again there is no certainty when it will be held."

"At the moment, I am jobless. I don't think I will be able to join my new job due to this uncertainty about the exam date," said Harem, who hails from Begusarai in Bihar.

"Authorities should understand our mental state. They should issue a public apology for causing us mental trauma. We couldn't even celebrate Eid with the family because of the exam and result stress," she said, adding that her mother has even stalled her wedding plans because of the exams.

Delhi-based Dr Jyoti Gupta said she is returning from Merrut, where her examination centre was. "I reached Meerut a day before the exam and stayed in a hotel. Now, I am dejected. I don't know when I should start my studies again. This is so frustrating."

Dr Akash Soni, who has been working as a medical officer in Singrauli Primary Health Centre in Madhya Pradesh for the past ten months, said he took leave from work and traveled overnight by train, a total of 700 km, to reach Bhopal centre.

"Many like me are working and had to take leave from work. It is so disheartening. Since COVID-19, we have been seeing this uncertainty. It is like students pursuing medical education have become a guinea pig for the authorities to experiment on," he said.

"Doctors are already overburdened. By cancelling the exam three times this year, they are wasting the resources of this country. It's a huge loss to the nation that doctors serving the nation are suffering like this," said Dr Soni, who is also the Federation of All India Medical Association (FAIMA) Doctors Association Madhya Pradesh Chairman.

Initially thinking that the news of the postponement was fake, Dr Shubham Anand Jha, who works as a Junior Resident at the Lady Harding Hospital in the Psychology department, said he couldn't believe that the authorities cancelled the exam at the last minute. "How can they take the students' lives so lightly? This is so disgraceful,"he says.

"My examination centre was in Meerut. I planned to travel with some other aspirants around 5 am. I know many aspirants who travelled 1,000 km to the exam centre. This is beyond shocking," he added.

After traveling all night to reach his examination centre in Sri Ganganagar in Rajasthan from Jaipur, a distance of over 450 km, Dr Sunreet Jakhar slept to get up fresh in the morning to take the exam.

"I was tired after the journey, so I went to sleep. When I reached the examination centre in the morning today, I was shocked to see the notice of cancelation outside. I am no longer on social media to avoid getting distracted, so I didn't get to know. It is so stressful to go back to studies and prepare again," he said.

Similarly, Dr Vishal Bishnoi traveled over 500 km from Jaipur in Rajasthan to Bareily in Uttar Pradesh. An intern in the paediatrics department at Jaipur National University, he traveled with his colleague Jitendra Sharma, whose centre was the same.

"We had reached the hotel and later found out that the exam had been postponed. It is such a huge disappointment. We are in disbelief," he said.

A few aspirants even said that in Telegram there were messages that the PG exam paper had been leaked and could be bought for Rs. 20-25 lakh, like the NEET-UG exam.

As the news started circulating, the NBE issued a notice on June 21, cautioning aspirants not to be allured or misled by such unscrupulous elements who are befooling NEET-PG aspirants by claiming to have questions of upcoming NEET-PG 2024 accessed through "the authority" and said they have registered a police case.

Dr Manish Jangra, Founder of FAIMA, said that the medical education in India has become a joke and is in crisis. "We want to know on what basis NBE has cancelled the exam. They are answerable to the students," he said.

"We have come to know that many students are in depression. Many took flights, trains, buses, and cabs to travel to far-off examination centres and booked hotels. Some were even traveling to reach the centre when the news broke," he added.

Dr Lakshya Mittal, who also has been handling numerous calls from anxious aspirants, said that after the NEET-UG irregularities and paper leaks, there is no faith in the National Testing Agency (NTA), despite the government's move to remove the director general Subodh Kumar Singh and replaced him Pradeep Singh Kharola.

"India's medical education has been destroyed. This abrupt change, coming on the heels of the NEET-UG scam, underscores a deeply troubling pattern in the handling of medical examinations and the overall medical education system in India," he said, adding that the Prime Minister's Office (PMO) should intervene and take strict action on the exam conducting bodies.

"The entire education system is collapsing," he added.

He said he is more worried that India's image would be tarnished. "Many Indian doctors go abroad to study or to work. Our doctors would find it difficult abroad after news of paper leaks and irregularities in medical exams. I fear they will be considered as fake degree holders," he said.

Kerala-based Dr Cyriac Abby Philips, popularly known as TheLiverDoc on X, formerly Twitter, said that in his career as a medical professional, he had not seen anything like this.

"The most important postgraduate medical entrance exam in a medical student's life is cancelled 12 hours before by the government. Students have spent years and A LOT of money preparing for this. This is not only devastating for them, it's a mockery of the medical education system in India. Enjoy five more years of this terrible clownery. No one has destroyed this nation as much as the current authorities. Tell me why anyone would want to stay back here to serve a banana republic. Dreaming of a time when we can hold our heads high again," he said.

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