For many students of medicine and dentistry, what was once their dream course soon turns into a nightmare because of one aspect of the system — the compulsory ‘break’.

Under the ‘break system’, students who fail in the first year of MBBS and BDS, cannot attend second-year classes and are forced to take a break of six months, before re-taking their exams. This is often a waste of time, said students, and leads to a lag in their progress.

Worst-affected are students of private medical colleges as they have to pay additional fees — at least half of the annual fees — for the break period.

“Once we fail in the first year, we form a separate batch. No importance is given to this batch. Many of the students are extremely depressed, as this is usually the first time they have failed,” said P. Soundar, a student of a government medical college in the city.

“We have requested Tamil Nadu Dr. MGR Medical University to suspend the break system but the authorities say that as per Medical Council of India (MCI) norms, students cannot move to para-clinical courses in the second year, unless they clear the pre-clinical courses in first year,” he added.

While in some colleges students who have failed are taught separately, in others, they have to sit with the new batch of first-year students. After they pass their exams, they re-join their original batch, but since they have missed out on a large part of the curriculum, they often find it more difficult than before. As a result, they do not understand many of the lessons taught, and get even more depressed.

M. Kishore, a second-year student at a private dental college said many Tamil-medium students faced problems while adapting to the new environment, coping with English and the tough medical syllabus. “Some Tamil-medium students have failed and are in the break batch. They now have to attend classes with our juniors,” he said.

Megha Kumar, a student at a private medical college, said, “Many private colleges fail at least 50 per cent of students every year. There were 150 students in my class and 52 failed in the first year. We pay around Rs. 6 lakh as fees in the first year. Students in the break batch have to pay an additional Rs. 6 lakh in my college. Many students fail repeatedly due to the stress and depression,” she said.

G.R. Ravindranath, general secretary of Doctors Association for Social Equality said the association has been demanding the suspension of the break system since 2005. “Re-exams should be held within six weeks of publishing results. The break system is leading to depression and alcoholism among students,” he said.

Vice Chancellor of Tamil Nadu Dr. MGR Medical University, D. Shantharam, said they had written to MCI about doing away with the break system but their request was declined. “The break system will continue for the first and final year of MBBS,” he said.

The university is now looking at holding supplementary examinations soon after the main exams, to avoid wasting time. However, a final decision about this will only be taken at the governing council meeting, to be held soon.

(Some names have been changed)