A decision by the Directorate of Health Services to reduce the qualifying percentile to zero for candidates seeking a post-graduate seat in a medical college under the NEET-PG Counselling 2023 has divided the medical and student community.
NEET entrance examinations already face opposition from states like Tamil Nadu, which label the entrance examination architecture as one impinging on their federal rights. Add to this the ever-changing dates, entrance methodology and mode of conduct of examinations - clearly a radical rethink is required on how students take their first step in the journey to become a doctor.
The medical education reforms initiated by the dissolution of the Medical Council of India and outlined in the National Health Policy 2017 were meant to usher in a new era, bereft of the controversies the sector faced for decades.
The need for reforms could not have been more dire, given the alleged corruption cases against erstwhile MCI officials, uneven quality of education, regional skew of medical colleges etc. Naturally the reformed National Medical Commission was welcome.
But NEET has always faced challenges, and the latest involves reducing the entrance qualification.
There is a feeling that authorities are learning to drive while at the wheel. A sense of adhocism has been displayed, which makes the system seem uncertain, prone to knee jerk changes and rule-making on a whim. For example, the stated reason for this current order is to ensure no medical seat goes unfilled. A noble thought, but this philosophy needs to be reflected in policy announcements prior to the examination exercise and not post-facto. The post-facto approach cannot but attract accusations of rule-bending to suit constituencies or pressure groups. And therein lies the problem.
There is an urgent need for stock taking by the Union Health Ministry on how reforms have performed. This exercise will strengthen the system, rid it of biases and create a concrete policy which can be implemented sans accusations from stakeholders.
World class medical education and the need for more doctors and health workers is a major challenge as India emerges from the Covid-19 pandemic only to face challenges like non-communicable diseases and climate change. A policy stock-take and creating an environment of rule-certainty will be beneficial for students and strengthen the health system in years ahead.
(The writer is a healthcare administrator at the Apollo Hospitals Group. Views expressed are personal.)