A large percentage of seats in State-run medical colleges are vacant

For several years, seats in some super-specialty courses have remained vacant in State-run medical colleges.

Some of the specialties that have fewer students opting for them are masters’ programmes in paediatric surgery, plastic surgery, neurosurgery and cardiothoracic surgery.

Plastic surgery as a specialty was launched in the 1970s, while cardiothoracic surgery was introduced in the early 1960s. The latter remains a challenging specialty. The number of seats in neurosurgery and paediatric surgery has also been steadily increasing over the years. Yet, students are not enthused to opt for these courses.

Surgeons say students consider courses such as gastroenterology and urology, which were introduced in the 1980s, more attractive. Surgeons say a specialist in gastroenterology can operate independently and does not need huge infrastructure support.

Of the 14 seats for cardiothoracic surgery in Madras Medical College (MMC), 20 per cent fell vacant last year, according to a senior college official. There were also vacancies in the neurosurgery course, said another senior official attached to the college.

At Stanley Medical College too, though the plastic surgery department has been designated a centre of excellence, all its seats were not filled last year. In the last two years, nearly half of the 24 seats in the specialty fell vacant.

J. Mohan, head of the department, said when the specialty was first introduced, only one or two seats were available at the post graduate level but over the years the number of seats has been increased. However, with the introduction of specialities such as gastroenterology, oncology and urology, students opted for them as they were assured of higher income.

There are other constraints too. Candidates in government medical colleges have to sign a bond to receive the subsidised education. The government also withholds students’ certificates till they fulfil the bond requirements. That means candidates have to wait for a decade before they can become full-fledged surgeons.

For cardiothoracic surgeons, mere qualification does not guarantee good earnings. “The specialty requires large investments in infrastructure unlike in the case of a gastroenterologist or urologist,” a specialist said. A cardiothoracic surgeon must have at his disposal a range of equipment for investigations. A hospital has to invest at least Rs. 4 crore to establish a good unit that will provide comprehensive care for a patient.

Earlier, in government hospitals, a reason for the lack of interest was a shortfall in motivation. But, the government’s health insurance scheme has changed that now, says neurosurgeon K. Deiveegan, attached to MMC.

“Only if hospitals perform surgeries and showcase their expertise will the specialist gain visibility. The insurance scheme has earned money for the departments and we are upgrading facilities. This will attract more students too,” he said.

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