Bengal is aiming to almost double the number of doctors graduating every year without caring to find a cure to the chronic illness plaguing medical education: lack of teachers and training.
The chairman of the West Bengal State Joint Entrance Examinations Board, Siddhartha Dutta, said 1,000 MBBS seats would be added to the nine medical colleges from the next academic session in accordance with a proposal from the Medical Council of India.
“The number of medical seats will increase from 1,205 to 2,205. We are preparing to announce a longer merit list for medical this year,” Dutta told Metro.
Those familiar with the way medicine is taught in the state baulked at the idea, saying that raising the number of seats in such a hurry would mean producing 1,000 more poorly trained doctors.
“More postgraduate seats hasn’t yet solved the shortage of teachers in medical colleges. The state is still 20 per cent short of the requirement,” said a senior official of the health department.
The structure of the medical course is also blamed for the lack of quality.
After four-and-a-half-years of studying, an MBBS student needs to do a year of compulsory internship.
But a one-year stint as a member of the house staff is optional till a student completes two years of postgraduate specialisation.
“The inherent drawback of this system (common to all medical colleges) is that a student who gets selected for a particular postgraduate course without spending time in the wards might discover later that he or she is not interested in it. That’s dangerous,” said an associate professor at Calcutta Medical College and Hospital.
Surgical gastroenterologist Sanjay De Bakshi, a member of the examination board for postgraduate surgical degrees in the UK, said proper training and guidance was the key to producing good doctors.
“After becoming a graduate, a medical student in the UK has to take a two-year pre-registration foundation course. Hospitals have an in-house assessment system and counsellors to help students decide what area of specialisation they should pursue,” De Bakshi added.
The one-year internship in Bengal is more of a time to prepare for yet another entrance exam than to gather hands-on experience.
“Most interns are more keen on cracking the entrance test for postgraduation than working in the wards. I don’t blame them; the fault lies with the system,” a professor said.
A health department official said a team from the medical council had already completed its preliminary inspection of the nine colleges and was set to give the green signal for addition of 1,000 seats.
So didn’t the team find out that the medical colleges don’t have the teaching manpower and infrastructure to take in more students?
“It’s not uncommon for medical colleges to produce proxy teachers for visits by the medical council. In some cases, even makeshift infrastructure is set up,” the official admitted.