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TO TREAT AN AILING SYSTEM

It is a no-win situation for medical students wanting to do their MD/MS from the University of Calcutta. The sale of admission forms ended on January 1, but few are aware of what awaits them if they make the grade. Postgraduate medical education in CU, through years of mismanagement and neglect, is on the verge of collapse.

The Medical Council of India, the regulatory authority for all medical courses in the country, has derecognized many of the MD/MS (3 years) and diploma (2 years) courses of CU. The catalogue brought out in 1999 lists 56 recognized courses, and also the 58 non-recognized ones. The information can easily be verified by visiting the council’s website, www.mciindia.org. The diploma in gynaecology and obstetrics and MS-Orthopaedics have been derecognized in four medical colleges. This means that those passing these courses every year from the four colleges do not have official recognition all over India.

The university, however, has managed to work its way around this tricky situation. Manoj Bhattacharyya, the dean of medial faculties of CU, says that students are admitted into a particular course in an institute whose course is recognized by the MCI, and are then given verbal orders to go and attend classes in other colleges where the courses have been formally derecognized. And the fraud does not end here. For the examinations, students are sent back to the college they had originally joined.

The only way out of this mess would be to invite the MCI for inspection, and get the courses formally recognized. But the huge funds required to overhaul the system are simply not available. Bhattacharyya says, “The situation is so bad that if the MCI were invited now, it would cancel existing courses instead of granting new recognitions.”

Things came to such a pass owing to reasons more historical than immediate. The University College of Medicine, functional for five decades, still does not have a clinical department. Bhattacharyya is candid about the situation: “The university does not have enough money to start its own clinics, and without them, the position of the UCM is that of a notional institute.” Students of the UCM have to go to Seth Sukhlal Karnani Memorial Hospital for clinical work, even though they are not always welcome there.

The authorities of the university, supposed to look after “discipline, student activities, athletics, college libraries” and so on (chapter 3, Article 2.5(1) of CU), have little knowledge of the curriculum or the way in which courses are conducted. Their work has boiled down to admitting students at the beginning of the session, distributing them to the colleges and holding the year-end examinations. Inspection by the university, supposed to be an annual feature, has taken place only twice in the past two decades. The resultant gap prevents feedback from reaching the university authorities. Talking about his experience as an inspector in the early Nineties, Subir Dutta, the former dean of medicine, says, “Our report showed that students were neglecting both theory and practical classes. But hardly anything has been done since then.”

Without a proper master plan, most teaching hospitals lag behind in matters of infrastructure. A booklet issued by the MCI contains details of staff and instrument requirements for every department. Even specifications for the size of classrooms and the required number of tables and chairs are mentioned. But no medical department in CU comes close to fulfilling these specifications. Necessary journals are hardly ever purchased for the libraries. The fact that teaching posts lie empty has been admitted by a legislative committee report of 1997-99. The microbiology department of the UCM functions with just one professor.

With rapid progress in imaging techniques, most departments have come to depend greatly on radio-diagnosis. It is here that shortcomings are most glaringly evident. No medical college, except for Bangur Institute, has an MRI or a CT Scan.

The way the university treats medical teachers at hospitals is an indication of the extent of neglect of medical teaching in the state. Arnab Sengupta, spokesman for the Medical Teachers Association, says: “The university sends its postgraduate students to us every year, but neither does it give us formal appointment as PG teachers, nor any payment for this extra work. It is only because we care for the students that we take on this job.”

What is absurd is that most teachers are not even aware of the abysmal situation. While the government recruits them through the medical education service, they teach at colleges where CU conducts the courses and exams. Thus the teachers do the work of the university, but CU has no direct control over them. The university cannot even provide a list of the names of postgraduate teachers.

The university uses this paradox to say that only the appointing authority for the teachers, meaning the government, has the right to give them appointment as postgraduate teachers. The government’s representative, the director of medical education, C.R. Maity, is still more brazen in his refutation. “What is the need for any formal appointment of PG teachers' Even the money is not that important,” he says.

The government also complicates matters by randomly transferring professors around the state. “A student doing his thesis under a professor suddenly finds him transferred out of the city. Consequently, his thesis may be in jeopardy,” Sengupta adds. The university remains completely in the dark about this, since the government does not think it necessary to inform the authorities of the transfer. Maity is equally dismissive about these allegations: “One can change guides if one wants to, and our students are good enough to cope with such problems.”.

The recent act, which seeks to create a state-level university, might seem to be a step in the right direction. All medical and allied courses — allopathy, homeopathy, ayurved, unani and nursing — are to be brought under the aegis of the new university. But some fundamental questions are yet to be answered. How will the problem of derecognized courses be solved' More important, no one has any idea about how the funds required to drag medical education out of the doldrums are to be generated. Maity is, as usual, vague about this too: “The government will make the proper arrangements.” And he cannot suggest a timeframe within which medical education will be transferred into the hands of the new university. Can the students still hope'

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