New Delhi: In an overwhelming response, hundreds of doctors and medical students on Thursday took part in a demonstration at Jantar Mantar here to protest against the recent amendment in the Postgraduate Medical Education Regulations of the Medical Council of India (MCI) which makes one year rural posting in a primary health centre (PHC) mandatory for becoming eligible to take admission in a PG course.
The students demanded that the rural posting should be made voluntary and should not be an eligibility criterion for applying for PG courses.
Defying water cannons by police, doctors and students of several premier medical colleges and hospitals in the capital including the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), Vardhman Mahavir Medical College (VMMC) & Safdarjung Hospital, Lady Hardinge Medical College (LHMC), Maulana Azad Medical College (MAMC) and the University College of Medical Sciences (UCMS) struggled to march towards the Nirman Bhavan where the union health ministry is located.
The protest was part of ‘Save the Doctor’ campaign, which had the support of Indian Medical Association (IMA), Delhi Medical Association (DMA) and Association of Healthcare Providers India (AHPI).
Rohit Mehtani, a final year student of the University College of Medical Sciences, told AalaTimes, “We are not against rural posting. We are just against adding an additional one year after MBBS. Rural posting should be a part of the PG curriculum. Also, the primary health centre should be inspected by a team of doctors before we are posted there and the state should take responsibility of the doctors posted in the PHC.”
Siddharth Saxena, an undergraduate student of the University College of Medical Sciences, who was also a part of the delegation of medicos that met Chandra Kishore Mishra, additional secretary and Dr Vishwas Mehta, joint secretary of the union health ministry at Nirman Bhavan on Thursday, told AalaTimes, “We put forward three-four demands in front of Shri Mishra and Dr Mehta. Firstly, the mandatory rural posting should be made voluntary and the respective state governments should take the responsibility for providing security to doctors posted in rural areas. Secondly, the PHCs in rural areas should be inspected from time to time by an independent panel of doctors. The student representatives wanted them to be consulted in this matter as it concerns their career prospects. Thirdly, the government should take care of the security of the doctors posted in the PHC. Fourthly, rural posting should be completed within the duration of MBBS or PG. One extra year should not be added.”
“They assured the students that the government would examine their grievances and take necessary action. But the press release issued by the health ministry is just not what they had promised. The doctors and the medical students are not happy with the press release. We believe that the government has not delivered on its promise,” he said.
Ankit, a student of AIIMS, told AalaTimes, “Rural posting can be incorporated during the MBBS internship or postgraduate training so that one precious year is saved. We spend around 8.5 years into studies to become a doctor. We need basic facilities and adequate security to work in a rural area. We have no option left but to voice our concerns through protests. The twin problems of lack of postgraduate seats and acute shortage of specialist doctors are already a harsh reality of the medical profession. On top of it making rural posting mandatory for entering PG courses will only discourage any effort to plug the widening gap between the (need and availability of) health services.”
Urvashi Kala of Lady Hardinge Medical College appealed the government to make rural posting voluntary and not compulsory. She told AalaTimes, “The decision of rural posting is going to affect a lot of MBBS students adversely. Our fight is not against rural posting, rather a broader view that includes postings in rural area only after PG. We know how much time it takes for us to become a doctor. The present proposal will only increase our hardships.”
Anand Sharma, an undergraduate student of Maulana Azad Medical College, who took part in the protest, told AalaTimes, “I am not entirely against rural posting. But there are no proper labs at PHCs to carry out the research; primary health centres are in tatters. There are also no lab attendants or nurses to accompany doctors. The infrastructure is also poor. Most of all, the question of safety of female doctors looms large over the provision of rural posting.”
Sharing her experience about the protest which she took part in, Priyal Rhenjen Garbyal, another MBBS student of MAMC, told AalaTimes, “We, the medical students of India, are not against the idea of rural stint; however, making it compulsory and a pre-requisite for sitting in the PG entrance exams is not justified in any way. What we demand are the following: Firstly, one year of rural posting should be included within the existing three year duration of PG. Secondly, students willing to do voluntary rural service should be given incentives or preference in PG seats. Thirdly, PHCs should be inspected by a team of doctors to ensure proper infrastructure, security and provision of adequate medical facilities.”
Garbyal added, “We had staged a peaceful protest on July 18 but our attempts went unnoticed by the authorities. But the protest at Jantar Mantar on Thursday managed to wake up the health ministry from its slumber. Barricades were broken, water cannon was fired and some of us were even lathi-charged, but in the end we are only happy that the health ministry agreed to talk to our representatives and discuss the matter with them. We witnessed the power of student movement that day. It was epic!”
No doubt, the protest gave a sounding to the health ministry about the discontent of medical students with the existing provisions of mandatory rural posting. The students felt that only a flexible approach towards it, keeping in mind the upgraded infrastructure and proper cohesion between training of young doctors and treatment facility in rural areas, could help in getting their support and coordination.
by Vidhi Rathee