What next for NEXT?

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In the light of doctors and medical students facing harassment over their caste, the idea of NEXT (National Exit Test—for medical students) appears to be a blessing in disguise.

When I spoke to my friends studying medicine, most of them appeared to be reluctant towards the idea of NEXT, largely because it’d just increase the academic burden on students, which is true. Medicine is one of the most taxing courses in the country, not just in terms of seeking admission, but also in terms of completion.

Any medical student would tell you about the seemingly inhuman hours they have to put in everyday, the number of tests they’ve to take, and just the sheer amount of mental energy they have to to devote to the course.

A third-year medical student in Thane, said that she’d spend 12 hours every Saturday and every Sunday at a coaching center to prepare for her PG examinations. 12 grueling hours to secure a seat in a preferred specialization and a specialization that has to be pursued two years later. This simply cements the nature of cut-throat, stifling competition that they operate under.

When medical students are willing to put in so much effort, there seems to be no plausible problem with NEXT, for it not only becomes a pre-requisite for gaining a medical license, but also serves as a conduit for admissions into post-graduate programmes.

The suicide of Mumbai based gynecologist – Payal Tadvi, who ended her life after repeatedly being harassed by her seniors over her caste, provides an important lesson here. While her case was widely spoken about, it is no secret that doctors from lower castes are repeatedly and routinely subjected to baseless harassments, all of which stem from the argument that they got admitted into the course at lower cut-offs owing to their caste. However, if NEXT steps in, there is no room for such an argument. Ultimately, regardless of one’s caste or financial status, a common exam has to be cleared to become a practicing doctor. It acts as a leveling field and as a fool proof way of ensuring that every doctor is equally competent. It dispels all sense of apprehension against a doctor from a particular background over the other.

This also holds true for private medical colleges that sell out seats for a hefty sum of money. Once there is a final exam that everyone, regardless of their profile has to take, there is a sense of uniformity. A doctor from a tier 2 private medical college is as competent to practice as a doctor from a tier 1, government college. In terms of practicality too, this makes sense. Medicine is one profession where it is literally a matter of life or death and it is imperative that each doctor is trained well enough and is actually qualified and skilled to practice medicine. A student who might secure a seat through donations, into a private medical college, if not trained right might end up becoming an incompetent doctor. And unlike most other professions, incompetence in medicine can be perilous.

This could be utterly disastrous. We certainly don’t need real cases of Kabir Singh.

However, caution must be taken to ensure that NEXT doesn’t become another money laundering opportunity for private coaching institutes, else it defeats the purpose of providing a fair chance to every student.

NEXT will also have to be taken by students who study from other countries like China and Russia. While there are many takers for seats into Russian medical colleges, China is a burgeoning space too. But the problem lies in the difference in the nature of the syllabi in those countries vis-à-vis ours. In fact, only a small percentage of students who study from these countries are able to clear the Indian medical exam to get a license to practice in India. The best part about NEXT, is that it’ll act as a single funnel for anyone to practice medicine in India, whether they’re students from India or elsewhere, regardless of their colleges or socio-economic profiles.

NEXT, that appears to encompass so many perks, comes with a catch. State governments and the IMA (Indian Medical Association) have declared that having a uniform exit examination is against the federal principles of the nation. But are we forgetting the fact that India is a quasi-federal state, where ultimately the Center does hold the prerogative to take a call on policies? Besides, if there can be a uniform test for seeking admissions, why can’t there be a uniform test for passing the course?

Tamil Nadu in particular has been very vocal about its disgruntlement towards the bill. But what’s worrying here, is that a lot of this debate about anti-federalism stems not from the fear that the federal principles of this nation will be compromised, but from political vested interests. Tamil Nadu had also deeply criticized the NEET examination and the situation exacerbated when a young female student committed suicide, post a debacle in her NEET scores.

NEET, NEXT, and medical colleges in general, are dicey waters to be treading on in Tamil Nadu. As a political party, it makes great sense to tap into the citizen’s vulnerabilities and apprehensions towards this new policy and oppose it openly. But taking a step back, the NMC (National Medical Commission) bill has many good features to offer.

Dr. Ranganathan who practices in Chennai, says that despite all the brouhaha by the State Government, NEXT will prove to be a step forward towards improving the overall quality of doctors that the nation produces every year.

Doctors are worshipped and are put on a pedestal next to god (and of-late also being beaten up and being subject to verbal and physical abuse), but that aside, medicine is almost sacrosanct, and any steps to improve the quality of doctors and the medical healthcare system in India, must be welcomed.

Milana Prakash is the Assistant Editor at One Future Collective.

Featured image source: Hindustan Times

Disclaimer: Views shared in this article are personal and may not represent that of the organisations.