Country needs more medical specialists

For the nation: MBBS students of 2002 batch during the convocation at Government Medical College, Kottayam.

For the nation: MBBS students of 2002 batch during the convocation at Government Medical College, Kottayam.   | Photo Credit: Photo: H. Vibhu


Relaxing the teacher-student ratio at the postgraduate level and better remuneration for faculty may improve the situation.

At a high level meeting in New Delhi on Friday, health ministers of different states agreed that there was a shocking lack of specialists in the country — both in clinical practice and in teaching. Unanimously, they urged Union Health Minister Anbumani Ramadoss, who was presiding over the meeting, to take remedial measures to increase the number of medical specialists in the country.

This then, is the biggest challenge that medical education faces in the country today. Though the dearth of teaching faculty is consorted with other chronic issues such as lack of infrastructure, quality and access, to the policy makers of the state, tiding over the human resource crunch seems to be the biggest hurdle.

More seats

Tamil Nadu, for instance, is all set to increase the number of medical colleges over the next few years. Already the state has 15 medical colleges, the last one – in Dharmapuri – inaugurated as recently as the last academic year. Hectic work is on to set up and seek recognition for two more medical colleges, one each in Tiruvallur and Villupuram. Planning has already started to set up two more medical colleges, one each in Perambalur and Sivaganga, Principal Secretary, Health, V.K.Subburaj says.

The concern among academics in Tamil Nadu is whether we are building colleges faster than we can staff them.

Mr. Subburaj says shortage of staff in certain faculty is certainly an issue and if something drastic is not done about that, it would continue to plague medical education throughout the country for a long while.

Higher education

However it is his contention that finding staff is not as big a problem with the undergraduate medical courses as it is with post graduate education.

“At the MBBS level, the problem is to find teachers for the basic medical sciences. There are not many who possess the qualifications that MCI demands and want to take up positions in government colleges,” he adds.

However, at the PG level, the state government is worried. It has recommended to the Centre to relax the one student to one teacher ratio recommended now.

Mr. Subburaj said the Centre has also positively responded to the suggestion to increase the ratio to 1:2 or 1:3.

Vice Chancellor of Tamil Nadu Dr. MGR Medical University Meer Mustafa Hussain agrees. He said it was to address the demand for basic medical sciences that the varsity has begun courses in microbiology, bio chemistry and physiology. Dr. Hussain also brings to the debate the quality of staff teaching in medical colleges.

“What are the kinds of faculty improvement programmes available today? Unless the teachers keep updating themselves, the standard of the students will be rock bottom,” he adds.

Pay scales

A serious component of the issue is the huge differences between the pay scales offered in the government sector and the private sector. “There is no doubt that salary plays an important part.

In a private college, a teacher gets paid about Rs. 1 lakh or more. He or she is required to work for fewer hours at the college too. What a teacher would be paid for one class per week in a private medical college is likely to be what a tacher in the government set up will be paid for working for 30 days,” Dr. Hussain explains.

The State government struck on an idea to take up retired professors as consultants on a consolidated pay into government medical colleges. “ I’m afraid we have not made much headway there. The professors themselves are unwilling to come. They get better compensation in the private colleges and as soon as they retire, have offers from many colleges,” Mr. Subburaj says.

Private sector

Even in the private sector, however, all things are not as rosy as they seem. Even if the money is good, there are clearly insufficient professional to teach in medical colleges. Vice Chancellor of Meenakshi University, Chennai, T. Gunasagaran reflects this perspective, when he says, “There is a need to generate more personnel.” He also adds that the government by itself cannot meet the challenge, and that partnerships must be formed outside, with non governmental institutions to generate more trained personnel. “Though Tamil Nadu is ahead of many states, even we cannot meet the challenge if we leave the task to the government alone.”

He suggests that a judicious relaxation of MCI rules, especially those specifying student-teacher ratios, is the need of the hour. “For instance, there are not enough basic science teachers. Even if we start today, it will take a few years to generate adequate faculty.” Dr. Gunasagaran also recommends rationalisation of the fee structure even within the government set up, even going as far as to suggest that the State should consider introducing the concept of payment seats in the government quota to provide a level paying field.

Recommended for you