Saturday, May 07, 2011

Freeze on medical courses wise

Comprehensive of Medical education review needed

The decision by the Higher Education ministry to temporarily freeze institutions of higher learning (IPT) in the country from offering new medical courses for 5 years is a right move to check on the uncontrolled increase in medical graduates in the country. It would also go a long way to arrest the rapidly declining standards of medical training at many institutions that are ill equipped academically and logistically to train them in the first place. Many of them are taking in far more students and offering more than the number of courses that they can than they can cope

While this freeze in additional intake may delay the achievement of the targeted ratio of one medical doctor to every 400 residents but what is more important is not the quantity but the quality of the doctors that we are churning out. It would be better to achieve the target at a slower place but ensure a high quality of the doctors.

Do we need 33 IPT offering 47 medical courses, some offering more than one programme, for a country with a population of 27million?Do we have the required numbers of qualified, talented and committed academic personnel to adequately train such a large number of students? Do these institutions that train such a large number of medical students have the basic up to date facilities and teaching hospitals to provide the basic hands-on training? Do we have enough hospitals and specialists in various medical disciplines to train our housemen after they graduate from the medical schools? These are some of the major issues that must be looked into seriously by the Higher Education and Health ministries before they proceed further in their rush to achieve some on-paper ideal doctor-patient ratio within a stipulated time.

We had an excellent system of medical education that produced doctors of high caliber, among the best in the region but today our standards are far below the best in the region. What is needed urgently is a comprehensive review of the policies that resulted in the present state of a glut of medical schools in the country. Why did we allow this situation to reach such a pathetic state? Why did we not have the foresight to prevent this present sad state of affairs? We need a more professional reassessment of the situation and introduce bold and drastic measures to undo the mistakes of the past.

The training of medical students and doctors is a long process, which needs careful planning and wise execution of those plans that may have to be revised from time to time in the process. There are no shortcuts to the process as resorting to any would only lead to a compromise in the quality of our doctors which would make a mockery of the achieved ideal doctor-patient ratio.

Apart from adequate basic facilities and qualified and dedicated teachers for quality training of medical students we need students of caliber and aptitude. Not only must they be high academic achievers at pre-university exams but they must also have the right aptitude and passion to take up medicine as a career. These may be the most difficult to gauge in young school leavers who apply to do medicine but to an experienced teacher it may be a skill that may come quite naturally. The problem is do we have enough of such experienced and gifted people left in our IPT that are so politically charged and commercially motivated.

There have been a lot of talk about stopping the brain drain from our institutions of higher learning and attracting back those who left to return but there is very little progress in this matter. In fact there seems to be a general sense of apathy on this issue, which is rather disappointing.

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