India needs more doctors urgently to treat its rapidly increasing population but the number of students even considering medicine as a career is falling each year.
What's keeping bright young minds away is the thought of 13 years of study and training to become a specialist, while their friends with careers in finance, engineering and technology earn lakhs each month. Just cracking the post-graduate entrance exam, where at least four students vie for each seat, takes years of study.
Dr KK Talwar, former chairman, Board of Governors of the Medical Council of India, tells HT how opportunities can be created in the field of medicine to make it an attractive and inspiring option once again.
Does India need more specialist doctors? Is increasing post-graduate seats in medical colleges the solution to the problem of the shortage of doctors?
Increasing PG seats is indeed the solution but a lot of factors need to be taken into consideration before it can be done. India needs to expand medical education without compromising overall quality.
Increasing seats means we well-trained faculty, better infrastructure and use of newer technologies in the education system. We cannot miss the fact that when PG seats are increased, it will be the private colleges that are going to benefit more as private colleges currently have more PG seats than government colleges.
Are you highlighting the capitation fees versus merit debate?
Precisely. Capitation fees culture often mars merit; why should a meritorious student lose out on an opportunity to get a specialisation if he or she does not have the money? If PG seats are increased mindlessly, then it could affect meritorious students. We need to actually strengthen our government–run medical colleges.
Are you in favour of compulsory rural posting after students complete their MBBS?
I am all for it. In fact, one year of rural posting post MBBS internship is just ideal as it will not only benefit rural population but will also expose students to the rural set-up.
However, keeping the students' interest in mind, some things have to be in place. The government has to ensure adequate infrastructure in rural areas for doctors to work as no doctor in a primary health centre will be able to function with just his or her coat and stethoscope.
These doctors should also be paid well and provided with an opportunity to specialise by increasing post-graduate seats so that students can secure admission in a specialty based on merit.
Private hospitals are still better off but there is immense shortage of doctors in government hospitals. Most of the vacancies are filled by doctors hired on an ad-hoc basis who quit as soon as they get a job in the private sector. What is the future of government hospitals?
Government hospitals, health centres and dispensaries are short-staffed is due to two reasons: lack of funds and lack of proper infrastructure.
Page private sector offers a surgeon three to four times more money than what the government offers, but more than that, the turn-off is the lack of infrastructure in government-run hospitals.
A doctor cannot do much without proper equipment and support staff. After all, increasing PG seats would mean more trained doctors who would require hospitals to practice in.
Along with expanding its medical education system, India has to improve its public healthcare delivery system to ensure treatment reaches everyone who needs it, irrespective of when they live or how affluent or deprived they are.