New Delhi: The leading government hospitals in the national capital are finding it hard to fill up vacancies for senior residents, a highly lucrative position for postgraduate medical students, amid a rising Covid-19 curve.
At least four hospitals — Delhi government-run Lok Nayak Jai Prakash (LNJP) Hospital and Guru Teg Bahadur (GTB) Hospital, and Union government-run Ram Manohar Lohia (RML) Hospital and Safdarjung Hospital — have been struggling to fill the advertised positions over the last month, according to hospital officials.
The first three of these four are designated Covid hospitals in Delhi. The city has recorded 1,04,864 Covid cases and 3,213 deaths as of Thursday.
At LNJP, the hospital advertised 30 positions for anaesthesia and medicine last month, but saw 3 walk-in candidates. The situation is similar at GTB and RML Hospitals, where one and 10 candidates have walked in so far for 27 and 72 positions, respectively, advertised last month.
Safdarjung Hospital posted vacancies for 177 senior residents on 16 June, in conjunction with Vardhman Mahavir Medical College. According to results posted on the college website, only 41 vacancies have been filled as yet, including two in medicine and eight in anaesthesia.
Medicine and anaesthesia are the departments most crucial to Covid care.
This situation has come as a surprise for hospital authorities as a residency position in government hospitals is highly sought after due to remuneration, experience and improved career prospects it offers. Postgraduate medical students are paid anywhere between Rs 70,000 and Rs 1,00,000 for this position in Delhi hospitals, which take out these vacancies twice a year.
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Hospital authorities attribute the low turnout for the posts to Covid fears, and delay in postgraduate exams. However, postgraduate medical students say the social stigma of Covid, coupled with trauma, is forcing them to stay away from residency.
Dismal response to walk-in interview calls
At LNJP Hospital, Delhi’s largest Covid facility, the response to calls for walk-in interviews has been dismal. “The recruitment was scheduled on 22 and 23 June and saw three candidates walk in for 30 open positions — in the anesthesia department we had 19 vacancies, and in medicine we had 11 open positions,” said a medical officer, who didn’t wish to be named.
The officer said interviews usually elicited better responses in past years. “We would easily get applications twice the number of vacancies. But this year we saw only two candidates for 18 open positions in the anesthesia department and the medicine department vacancies didn’t do any better. For 11 open positions, we had only one candidate,” he said.
A GTB Hospital official said vacancies were floated for medicine and anesthesia posts. “It has been 15 days since we opened 27 positions… (we) saw only one candidate walk in for the medicine department,” the official said on condition of anonymity.
The hospital has 253 sanctioned positions for senior residents, but 91 positions remain vacant.
“It seems like there are no candidates available right now. Out of 25 sanctioned positions for consultants in anaesthesia department, 14 are vacant and 11 such positions are vacant among senior residents,” he said.
RML Hospital has 1,447 beds for treating both Covid and non-Covid patients, but it is short of 108 doctors and 328 nurses.
Minakshi Bhardwaj, medical superintendent, RML Hospital, said it is in dire need of doctors. The hospital has opened positions, but is yet to see a positive response. “We have 72 positions for senior resident doctors open and despite advertising only 10 walked in for an interview,” she said.
On Thursday, the hospital took out a fresh set of 142 vacancies for senior residents.
Covid crisis and exam delays behind low turnout
According to Bhardwaj, the reason behind such a low turnout is the Covid-19 crisis. “The fear of catching the disease is so prevalent that doctors don’t wish to work in these wards,” she said.
So far, 162 healthcare workers associated with RML Hospital have tested positive.
However, the medical officer at LNJP said it’s not just the pandemic behind this. Departments like paediatrics, skin and other para clinical posts often see a low turnout because few people choose these fields as specialisation, he said.
“The pandemic does not mean doctors will stop coming to the hospital. We all are coming to the hospital and working 12 hours a day. There are several other constraints stopping doctors from applying. These reasons could be the health of their parents/children or their own health,” he added.
The GTB Hospital official said Covid could be one of the reasons for the shortage of candidates, but he also cited the issue of delayed exams.
Officials at Safdarjung Hospital refused to comment.
What students say about residency amid Covid
Members of the resident doctors’ associations at three of the five hospitals said doctors who were previously infected have re-joined services owing to the shortage. They also said the fear of Covid has deterred many from meeting their families.
A resident doctor at RML, who did not want to be named, said, “After finishing our shifts, we cannot touch our family members or be in the same rooms. Doctors who have their parents or children living with them ache to spend time with their families.”
An RDA member from AIIMS told ThePrint, “Senior residents have to carry the weight of the number of patients. The need of the hour is that more doctors with Covid training are brought in.”
Post-graduation medical students, who are eligible to apply for senior resident positions, appear reluctant to do so. The high caseload, which is alluring for experience in normal scenario, is now turning them away.
“We as doctors are under tremendous trauma. For most of us who live in hostels, it is a life of absolute misery with no one to talk to,” said a medical student, who is currently serving as a senior resident in a government hospital in Delhi.
Another first-year postgraduate medical student in Delhi said, “It is difficult for doctors with families to go back home. Why would anyone want to infect their own families? For unmarried doctors like us, landlords and neighbours have made living in our homes difficult. The stigma follows us wherever we go.”
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