‘Even 1 year is crucial’: Why delay in NEET PG counselling has led to doctors' strike today

NEET PG 2021 Counselling: Delay has left hospitals short-staffed and wasted a year in a medical career that already requires over a decade’s training.


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NEET PG Counselling 2021 : Resident doctors to withdraw OPD services from today (Image: PTI, representational )NEET PG Counselling 2021 : Resident doctors to withdraw OPD services from today (Image: PTI, representational )

Pritha Roy Choudhury | November 27, 2021 | 10:56 AM IST

New Delhi: Medical students, doctors’ careers and even some hospital departments are hamstrung by the delay in admission counselling (NEET PG counselling 2021) for postgraduate medicine.

Candidates who wrote the National Eligibility-cum-Entrance Test for Postgraduate (NEET PG 2021) have lost practically a year of their careers; those who wrote the exam for admission to postgraduate medicine multiple times feel time is running out. Hospitals, meanwhile, are short-staffed in a pandemic year as postgraduate students typically form a significant chunk of the workforce. These and more reasons have resulted in several doctors and resident doctors’ associations calling for a boycott of out-patient department (OPD) services from today.

The NEET PG counselling is the process by which candidates who have qualified the NEET PG 2021 exam will be assigned seats in postgraduate courses in medical colleges. The counselling process was set to begin on October 25 but a section of students moved the Supreme Court challenging the introduction of two categories of reservation in seats, 27% for the Other Backward Classes - Non-Creamy Layer (OBC-NCL) and 10% for the upper-caste Economically Weaker Sections, implemented from this year. The process was put on hold pending the Supreme Court’s decision but on November 25, the court scheduled the next hearing over a month away, on January 6, 2022.

Also Read | Explainer: All you need to know about OBC reservation in AIQ medical seats

If this situation of constant delays and postponements continues for much longer, it will set back careers of doctors whose training already spans a decade-and-a-half. “Everything is getting delayed. I attempted this [NEET PG] for the third time. I am already 28. So, time is a big issue,” Kirti Viswas, MD, anaesthesia hopeful, told Careers360.

It is not just the doctors’ individual careers that are on the line. The staff-shortage in hospitals also has implications for healthcare delivery. On November 25, the Federation of Resident Doctors’ Associations (FORDA) declared a nationwide doctors’ strike from tomorrow, November 27. FORDA, the Federation of All India Medical Associations (FAIMA) and Indian Medical Association Junior Doctors Network (IMA-JDN) have called for shutting down outpatient department (OPD) services and protests.

NEET PG 2021: Many delays

When NEET PG 2021 was held on September 11, it was already delayed by eight months due to the pandemic. The exam is typically held in January — it was in 2020 —but had been first scheduled in April 2021 due to COVID-19. It was postponed several times, the last time by four months by the prime minister, Narendra Modi.

While a section of students had demanded postponement, the Indian Medical Association, a body of doctors, had opposed it from the start arguing that this also prevented the entry of staff to work as “COVID warriors”.

Then in July, as an outcome of another court case, the Modi government announced it will finally implement the 27% OBC quota in the all-India Quota of medical seats. Every state institution “surrenders” 50% of its seats to the AIQ. Counselling for this set is conducted centrally by a body under the ministry of health and family welfare. Students from all over the country can be admitted into the AIQs of state colleges. The central reservation policy applies to these seats and while the reservation for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes was implemented, it was denied to OBC candidates. Along with the OBC quota, the union government also introduced a 10% EWS quota in July.

The new quotas were challenged in the Supreme Court and NEET PG counselling 2021 put on hold. On October 23 the SC had asked the union government to relook at the minimum income criterion for defining the EWS category — it is now Rs 8 lakh per annum — and report on November 25 when the government sought another four weeks, postponing a very critical decision to January.

NEET PG Counselling: Shortage of doctors

The delay has worried hospitals. “We are seeing a manpower crunch,” said Dr Amir Khan Maroof, professor, community medicine, University College of Medical Sciences, Delhi University. “The resident doctors form a major workforce. They learn as they do. As it is because of Covid things got delayed and now again there’s delay. The clinical departments are suffering badly.”

Postgraduate students currently in hospitals are stretched too. “The workload is terrible,” said Dr Sanjeev Kumar, second-year postgraduate student of forensic medicine at Patna Medical College and Hospital. “We are working double shifts. Our session started in August last year. There is a shortage of faculty and a shortage of equipment.”

Dr Abhilasa Kapoor, pursuing an MD in community medicine, agreed: “There is already a shortage of doctors and those in a clinical set up are doing 36 hours of duty at a stretch.”

Students of community medicine are supposed to work in a clinical setup for one month in a year, in addition to the rural and urban centres they are assigned to complete their practicum.

“We are now asked to work in a clinical set-up more frequently because of the shortage of doctors. So a fresh batch should start working at the earliest and this can happen only if the counselling is done at the earliest,” explained Kapoor.

Being short-handed across the board also means new departments and new medical colleges will take longer to become fully operational. India has added 179 new government medical colleges over the past six years and still more are in the process of opening; new colleges are expanding.

“One year of precious time has gone,” said Dr Neeraj Kumar, professor, All Indian Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) Patna. “So many new colleges are coming up, resident doctors could work under a faculty in a new department. Now, the entire cycle will be disturbed.” Admission to PG medicine in AIIMS is via the Institutes of National Importance - Common Entrance Test (INI-CET). However, admission to the bulk of the seats are in state and other central medical colleges is via NEET PG.

We have time for IPL, Elections, Beating thali, filling newspapers with advertisements & propoganda but when it comes to real issues which needs immediate attention the govt needs 4 weeks to decide! Thank you @PMOIndia for creating a Zero year in the history of medical education.

NEET PG 2021 Counselling: Careers on hold

Then, medical training is already protracted and continues for well over a decade for doctors wishing to join medical academia.

“After completing post-graduation, the person has to complete three years of SR-ship for a period of three more years to be eligible for the post of assistant professor. All these courses are time-based,” said Kumar.

Kirti Viswas, 28 and an MBBS graduate working with the health department of Bihar, hopes to do an MD in anaesthesia and then teach. If she gets admission, her postgraduate studies will last six years; another three years training as a senior resident will follow before she can start teaching. The delay in NEET PG 2021 counselling only further prolongs her training period.

The maximum age for joining SR-ship is 45, Kumar pointed out. For faculty in a place like AIIMS, or any institute of national importance, the retirement age is 65 years. “Even one year’s delay is very crucial for a person in medicine,” said Kumar. He also pointed out that there is a chronic shortage of staff in certain branches of medicine, including anaesthesiology, and they could use many more expert hands.

“This is nothing less than mental harassment waiting for so long to appear in the exam and now the counselling is also getting delayed,” added Dr Rohit Gandhi, another aspirant awaiting counselling.

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