By: HBI Desk
Medicine has always been among one of the most sought-after professions in India. The availability of multiple medical courses in the country has also resulted in a greater number of students opting for a career in medicine. However, the dream of becoming a doctor and making a difference in one’s life is often faced with several impediments for many Indian students. High cut off rates, lack of seats, unavailability of medical equipment, increasing fees in private medical colleges, and poor return on investment (ROI) are some of the challenges, which are steadily deteriorating medical education in the country.
Details of the announcement
According to recent data released by union health and family welfare ministry, there are almost 1 million doctors in India, out of which, only 8 lakh are in active practice. The data further highlights that there is only 1 doctor for every 1,600 people, which is much below the doctor to patient ratio of 1:1000 suggested by the WHO. With the Indian medical education sector failing to deliver in terms of quality and quantity of medical professionals, the demand for quality doctors is rapidly increasing.
All this is set to change by 2022 as our country adds 75 new medical colleges with an investment of Rs. 24,375 crore. These colleges are supposed to be attached to existing district or referral hospitals. The new medical colleges would be set up in areas having no medical college with at least 200-bed district hospital. The government has also declared that preference will be given to aspirational districts and district hospitals having 300 beds for the establishment of the new colleges. This would lead to an increase in the availability of qualified health professionals, improve tertiary care in the government sector, utilise the existing infrastructure of district hospitals and promote affordable medical education in the country.
The status till date
Continuing the focus on the creation of healthcare infrastructure, the Central Government had earlier approved to establish 58 new medical colleges attached with existing district/referral hospitals under Phase-I and 24 colleges under Phase-II. Of this, 39 medical colleges under Phase-I have already started functioning, while the remaining 19 would be made functional by 2020-21. Under Phase-II, 18 new medical colleges have been approved. The establishment of new medical colleges (58+24+75) would lead to an addition of at least 15,700 MBBS seats in the country.
In a bid to improve the doctor to population ratio, 45,000 new MBBS seats have been added in the last 5 years and 82 medical colleges have been established in the country. Being the biggest ever expansion of medical education facilities throughout the world, this is one decision, which will benefit thousands of students everywhere every year and ultimately the poor and rural population as it will create more facilities in the rural regions and alleviate the adverse patient to doctor ratio.
The challenge in Indian healthcare lies in finding good doctors where they are needed the most – in remote locations. The government’s announcement to set up 75 new government colleges, especially in underserved areas has been welcomed by many within the Indian healthcare sector.
Experts in the industry are of the view that it is important to keep track of how it is executed, who gets to choose where these are set up and with whom the ownership lies (the Centre or states). One also needs to look into the challenges of finding the right faculty. District hospitals are typically the domain of the state governments, unless there is a scheme under which states are to be given funds to upgrade these hospitals to become teaching establishments. This poses another issue of converting a district hospital, whose primary job is treatment and care, into a teaching hospital. This is slightly different from the usual norm of having a hospital attached to a teaching college.
Underserved regions having government medical colleges will immensely help young students aspiring to become doctors, who otherwise travel for long hours to study or practise medicine. Even if 5-10% of fresh graduates decide to stay back in underserved areas, it will be more than sufficient. With our country having nearly 70% of medical colleges in the southern and western regions, this hopefully will ensure that we get the doctors to regions in central, northern and eastern parts of India that suffers from shortage of doctors because of fewer medical colleges.
However, some basic questions need answers, like: If ownership rests with state governments, nothing may be possible until the state co-operates. How do we tackle this? Also, when working out on the distribution of the 75 colleges across states, there is need for more clarity on what would determine the selection of the locations/states. In addition, the assessment of the government on the exact requirement of discipline-wise faculty needs to be assessed since all faculty members require at least a master’s degree. Our country is clearly having a shortage of well-trained doctors with MD or MS degrees, focus must be on finding good faculty that these institutions need.
Hence, by opening new government medical colleges, attaching existing district/referral hospitals on one hand and liberalising some MCI norms on the other, a substantial number of MBBS seats can be increased thereby making affordable medical education available in the country and mitigating shortage of doctors with respect to the population and distribution of the human resources across the country.