New Delhi: As the number of Covid-19 cases start coming down in most of the country, medical colleges could restart physical classes from 1 December.
The Ministry of Health and Family Welfare has written to all states and union territories, emphasising the need to have classes resume at the same time across India in the interest of “standardisation”. Delaying the classes any further could result in 80,000 fewer doctors than planned in five years’ time.
The new academic session 2020-21 is set to commence from 1 February, and the new PG session from 1 July 2021. The PG NEET exam is set to be scheduled around March-April 2021.
“After considering all relevant factors, the NMC (National Medical Commission) has recommended that the colleges may reopen on or before 1 December 2020. The NMC has also given a suggestive schedule of training for different classes that is annexed with their letter,” Health Secretary Rajesh Bhushan said in a Wednesday letter to state and UT chief secretaries.
The NMC is India’s new medical education regulator, which was recently constituted to replace the Medical Council of India.
“Further, the NMC has advised that sufficient number of non-Covid beds may be made available in medical college hospitals to facilitate undergraduate medical training. The ministry has also obtained concurrence from the Ministry of Home Affairs for reopening medical colleges in states and UTs,” Bhushan wrote.
Medical colleges have been shut since the Covid-induced lockdown was announced in March, though hospitals have either been functioning throughout or resumed after shutting down for a while.
Online classes for medical students started when colleges were allowed to teach virtually. Several states, including Karnataka and Uttar Pradesh, have opened colleges with strict norms, even as attendance remains thin.
There has been concern for some time now about the desirability of continuing with online classes in medicine, as contact with patients and practical classes are crucial, especially in the senior years. A new curriculum is also set to be introduced from this year, where there will be more community connect.
Important for colleges to reopen in one go
In an earlier communication to all states dated 12 November, the NMC had said it is desirable that all medical colleges should resume classes at one go rather than in a staggered manner.
The academic session 2020-21 for fresh MBBS students has already been delayed by four months, and for the current batch of interns, there are additional problems because unless their clinical training is completed, they cannot appear for the PG NEET examination.
“It is imperative that the new MBBS session should be initiated at the earliest. Further, it was noted that the students today (would-be doctors tomorrow) should be familiar with the inherent threats and opportunities in a healthcare system which they would eventually handle themselves,” the NMC had written.
“It should not be a missed opportunity for medical students to learn the skills of epidemic management as a public health professional. Delaying reopening of medical colleges has the potential of a null year for the academic year 2021-22, which could result in non-availability of about 80,000 doctors in five years,” the NMC had written in its communication to states and UTs.
Bhushan attached a copy of this communication with his letter, and said: “I would like to bring to your notice the advice of the NMC… that has suggested that in the best interest of medical education, and from the point of view of standardisation, it is desirable that the medical colleges open at the same time across the country.”
The health secretary asked states and UTs to take necessary steps for the reopening of medical colleges from the appointed date. He reiterated that all standard operating procedures and guidelines on social distancing and infection prevention, as issued periodically, will have to be followed in the colleges.