Gaps in India’s medical education revealed by evacuation of students from Ukraine

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He said his father, who runs a medical store, “arranged the money with savings and loans”.

Mr Manoj Sharma, 25, a 2019 medical graduate from Tianjin Medical University in China, said he had always dreamed of being a doctor in India. The country suffers from a severe shortage of doctors – one for every 1,511 people, worse than the World Health Organization’s recommendation of one doctor for every 1,000 people.

“To study medicine in India, you have to get very high marks or pay very high donations. Going to China, I studied the same subjects, I got a good clinical orientation in their public hospitals and I am qualified at an affordable cost,” said the graduate who now lives in Cuddalore, Tamil Nadu.

Another reason why more Indians are heading to Ukraine, China and other countries like the Philippines is that the consultants employed by these countries promote study abroad as a life-changing opportunity.

Mr Shahid Sharif, an 18-year-old first-year medical student in Kharkiv who now lives in Trichy, Tamil Nadu, said he had been looking forward to Ukraine to “get global exposure in a country European”.

2021 research from Bangalore-based consulting firm RedSeer found that over the past five years the number of Indians studying abroad has increased by 20% to more than 800,000 now, with spending 38 billion Singapore dollars annually. This outflow of students exceeded the increase in domestic students by six times.

During the same period, the number of candidates for the Foreign Medical Graduates Examination (FMGE) has also tripled – the compulsory test for all Indian students studying medicine abroad in order to obtain a license for practice in India.

The last FMGE in December 2021 saw 23,349 applicants, of which only 5,665 passed.

Mr Manoj, who took the FMGE last year on his third attempt, said the low pass rate was not due to the quality of education in China or Ukraine, but to the inability of foreign graduates willing to spend another year concentrating solely on preparing for a difficult exam.

After Indian medical student Naveen Shekarappa died in a bombing in Ukraine on March 1, his grief-stricken father in Karnataka lamented that it was the cost of medical education and the caste-based reservation system in India who killed her son.

His comments led many others to demand the removal of India’s policy of reserving places in public universities for applicants from historically marginalized communities like Dalits and tribes.

But other educators said it was the overall low intake capacity in India that drove students to move abroad.

Vice-Chancellor of Madan Mohan Malaviya University of Technology in Gorakhpur, Dr Onkar Singh pointed out that there are 1,043 universities, 42,343 colleges and 11,779 autonomous tertiary institutions in India, but that they enrolled only a third of Indians of eligible age. Widening the pool of vacancies would accommodate more young people, he said.

Today, the students who have returned are relieved to be home safe and sound, but as the war in Ukraine escalates, they fear completing their studies.

The Indian Medical Association, a body of private doctors in India, has now asked Prime Minister Modi to let students enroll in local medical schools “on an ad hoc basis”.


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