Definitely not for money should you plan a career in medicine. If the grateful smile and the relieved tears of a healed patient really would tip up your juices, then go for it.

There could be many reasons for students choosing to pursue the medical profession. Many times they find that the ground realities are very different from what they thought they were getting into. Counsel on this comes in two parts: The first half is on choosing an MBBS course, the second portion is on what happens after the MBBS, an equally worrying scenario for the committed medical graduate.

Vaidya Narayano Hari, goes the ancient adage, placing the healer and creator on the same level. Unfortunately the God status has been reversed in the public eye, and in some instances, literal reversal happens! Yes, it’s true there’s money in medicine, but there is much more in business and real estate. I remember giving the valedictorian address at Don Bosco School 30 years ago and saying that the teachers should be proud of the top half of the class because we were going to be the doctors, the lawyers, and the engineers, and proud of the bottom half because they were going to employ us! No, definitely not for money should you plan a career in medicine. Of course, the glam element is there too, especially in surgery, but that’s an incidental perk too. Students should look beyond the image issues and focus on the reality of being a doctor. The payout of energy, emotion and time is so high that pure glam-seekers drop out after some time. The real reason you should choose medicine or surgery is if you care for humanity. Cliched as it may sound, the pure joy of caring and curing cannot be felt so intensely in any other field. If the grateful smile and the relieved tears of a healed patient really would tip up your juices, then you are looking at medicine. When, to be a carer is more than a career... go for it.

After the MBBS degree

The possibilities have expanded tremendously. The first thing that graduates should know is that the MD and the MS are no longer mandatory, and the National Board has really stepped in to make the postgraduate degrees attainable across the country. This has done away with the bottleneck. (Postgraduate seats are either obtainable or attainable, with the latter indicating effort on your part and the former, a hole in your purse).

Postgraduation can be sought either in one’s own State or across the country. It is heartbreaking to see youngsters interested in surgery swotting away at books and devouring medical esoterica on molecular biology and genetics, totally unconnected with their future. The intense competition forces the authorities to use these differentiating factors leading to this sorry state.

The MCQ (multiple choice question) industry has burgeoned into a massive one with the joke going around that a frustrated student was tossing a coin and ticking the answers in an MCQ exam to the disgust of the invigilator. Having finished early he turned back to the first page and continued flipping the coin. He then tells the exasperated invigilator, “Sir, I’m just checking the answers!”

Fly away?

As an alternative, one could escape the blindingly competitive rat race in India and move on to the U.K. or the U.S. While the American system is the most painstakingly structured educational system on the planet, it suffers from the following drawbacks: (1) Entry is difficult and involves clearing step 1 and 2 of the USMLE. (2) There is an inherently longer training period before completion. (3) The pot of gold at the end of the rainbow is so attractive that statistically only seven per cent of postgraduates return to practise in India — a prime example of brain drain.

Amidst this bewildering array of facts, my concluding advice to wannabe doctors and their seniors — if you are contemplating a lifetime in medicine, make sure it’s really your choice and not a parental fantasy that you are fulfilling. Too many MBBS seats have been lost to more deserving candidates because of this. If you have a deep and abiding passion in becoming a doctor, only then should you jump into it. Having taken the plunge do enjoy the ebb and swell of the waters!

The writer is a surgical gastroenterologist and chairman of Lifeline hospitals, Chennai.

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