Will the Ukraine crisis lead to a long overdue overhaul of India’s medical education system?
The unfolding crisis in Ukraine has revealed, once again, the many dark ironies of India’s medical education system. With most Indian families unable to afford an MBBS degree in India, thousands of aspiring doctors are forced to travel abroad to countries where governments still subsidize medical education.
Just as the COVID-19 pandemic has forced us to introspect and rejuvenate our health and healthcare systems, will the Ukraine crisis lead to a long-awaited sweeping overhaul of India’s medical education system? Can digital solutions play a role? Can public-private partnerships step in to fill the gaps more vigorously?
The difference in the cost of medical education is steep: a six-year course in Ukraine costs Rs 15-20 lakhs, while its Rs 50 lakh-Rs 1.5 crore in one of the private medical colleges in the country. India for a 4.5 year course. Public medical colleges in India are the most affordable, but there is a huge gap between supply and demand. Of the estimated 18,000 Indian students in Ukraine, the majority are expected to be medical students.
If the Indian government increased the number of places in government medical colleges and provided more affordable medical education here, we could prevent this brain drain. While an increasing number of these students are returning to India to take the Foreign Medical Graduates Examination (FMGE), which they must pass to practice in India, they face a disconnect between what they have learned and what is required. . Experts point to the low pass rate, blaming it on foreign language learning, as well as differently oriented healthcare systems.
Perhaps recognizing that the government sector is not as nimble as it should be and may not have an immediate solution, Prime Minister Modi himself has called for greater involvement private sector in this area. Significantly, he also urged state governments to come up with “good land allocation policies on this so that more doctors and paramedics are produced here.” He was speaking at a recent webinar on allocations in the union budget for the health sector, indicating that the private sector can be assured of good returns
If this is the ideal solution, will the private sector step in? The shortage of medical personnel in India predates COVID-19, and it is well known that the brain drain has increased. Many doctors are giving back to their homeland, returning to India and creating world-class hospital chains, like Apollo Hospitals Group, to name one, based on their experience and expertise. But, there are still too few to make a sufficient difference.
Even as civilians flee Ukraine and medical students line up to return, doctors, nurses and paramedics from a dozen countries, including India, are reportedly signing up to help in this humanitarian crisis. Global agencies are stepping in, setting up emergency border care teams. As MSF was forced to stop its activities in Ukraine, they used deployed telemedicine to train 30 surgeons from eastern Ukraine in trauma care. While we hope for a quick and humane solution to the Ukrainian crisis, this situation may lead to solutions to this long-outstanding problem.
While Ukraine lacks essential medical supplies, many companies would like to send supplies but have no means of transporting them. Associations like the World Medical Association (WMA) are stepping in to amplify the efforts of organizations like the Polish charity Doctors for Doctors.
Every crisis is an opportunity for change. Hopefully, we will soon reach that tipping point in the Indian medical education sector. Otherwise, we will find ourselves facing the health battle without an army.