During the pandemic, state governments have been liberal in allowing hospitals to add up to 30% extra beds to accommodate some part of the overflow. But they did not consider that there are not enough doctors to serve even the existing patient load. India urgently needs more young doctors on the frontline.
President, Association of Healthcare Providers, India
Director General, Association of Healthcare Providers, IndiaCovid-19 brought to the forefront many glaring problems faced by India’s healthcare industry today. Medical professionals are already stretched to capacity, overwhelmed by the warlike conditions they are working in, not to mention their daily risk of exposure to the virus. Despite going beyond their call of duty, there were simply not enough doctors to take care of the huge number of patients who needed medical attention.
How is it possible that the country with the largest number of medical colleges in the world has a shortage of doctors? During the pandemic, state governments have been liberal in allowing hospitals to add up to 30% extra beds to accommodate some part of the overflow. But they did not consider that there are not enough doctors to serve even the existing patient load. India urgently needs more young doctors on the frontline.
So, how can this problem be fixed? One, we have 180,000 MBBS doctors who are unavailable to serve the healthcare needs of the country as they are staying home to prepare for the National Eligibility-cum-Entrance Test (NEET), in the hope of attaining one of the 50,000 available postgraduate seats. NEET this year has been postponed by four months, effectively causing a loss of one batch of specialists.
While the long-term answer to this problem is to equalise the number of undergraduate and postgraduate seats, the short-term solution is to immediately advance NEET so that the selected students can join their PG course in the next month or two. Postgraduate students have provided invaluable service as frontline warriors during the first two waves of Covid-19. The new batch of residents can be effectively used as we continue to fight the pandemic.
Two, the remaining 130,000 students who do not qualify, and who would otherwise stay home another year to prepare for the next NEET, can be provided with incentives to work in Covid-19 hospitals in return for grace marks towards their next NEET.
They would welcome this move at a crucial time in their careers. Also, this is not a new concept. Doctors in government service, for instance, are given additional marks for every year of service when they apply for postgraduate seats. Three, grace marks should be given to foreign medical graduates in return for service in a Covid hospital in India. Every year, about 20,000 foreign medical graduates who have done their training in medical colleges outside India, return to their homeland.
Though they are allowed to practice in most parts of the world, they are not eligible to practice in India until they pass the Foreign Medical Graduates Examination (FMGE), a screening test with a very low pass percentage. To get this additional valuable resource on board, they should be given additional grace marks for FMGE if they have worked in a Covid hospital.
These are three simple and realistic solutions that can be easily implemented without compromise on quality. These measures can fill the gap, and India will have a great deal to gain with a suitable number of motivated doctors for the future.
Thomas is president, and Gyani is director general, Association of Healthcare Providers, India (AHPI)