New Delhi: Nearly four months have passed since the war in Ukraine forced them to leave their studies midway and return to India. Now back home, thousands of medical students find themselves increasingly frustrated with the National Medical Commission (NMC).
Their growing frustration — about 250 students staged a protest outside the NMC’s office in Delhi Tuesday — stems from delay on the part of the apex regulator in making a decision to accommodate them in colleges back home.
Some states like West Bengal and Karnataka have allowed medical students who’ve returned from Ukraine to attend state colleges as “observers” for now, as the NMC’s Undergraduate Medical Board (UGMEB) deliberates on an official decision, but students say they need a “permanent solution” that would enable them to complete their studies.
ThePrint reached NMC Chairman Suresh Chandra Sharma over the phone, but he declined to comment on the issue.
Earlier this year, the Supreme Court had instructed the NMC to decide on the matter by 29 June. Owing to delays, an announcement in this regard is now expected on 15 July, according to students.
The duration of an MBBS degree course is five-and-a-half years, which includes nine semesters and one year of compulsory rotating internship.
Citing sources within the NMC, a PTI report in June had hinted that the regulator had drafted a proposal to allow final-year students to complete their studies online before appearing for the Foreign Medical Graduate Exam (FMGE). If the proposal is cleared, those students who clear the FMGE will have to undertake a two-year internship instead of one, the report said.
Another draft proposal mentioned in the report said that first- and second-year medical students would have to begin their undergraduate studies from scratch by appearing for the National Eligibility cum Entrance Test (NEET). There were no proposals specific to third and fourth-year students.
In March, the government evacuated nearly 18,000 Indian students stranded in war-torn Ukraine, an initiative it termed ‘Operation Ganga’. According to reports, at least two Indian students died in Ukraine, one from shelling and another from a stroke.
Meanwhile, hundreds of other students had to seek shelter in underground bunkers in at-risk cities like Kharkiv and Sumy. Kharkiv National Medical University and Sumy State University are some of the most popular colleges where Indian students pursue medical studies in Ukraine.
‘NEET not a viable option’
On Tuesday, accompanied by their parents, about 250 medical students staged a demonstration outside the NMC’s office in Delhi’s Dwarka neighbourhood against the draft proposals reportedly made by the apex regulator.
Gracy Arora (20), a second-year student at Vinnitsa National Medical University in Ukraine, travelled all the way from Madhya Pradesh to take part in the demonstration.
“The draft proposals made by NMC are not at all in favour of students. They want first- and second-year students to start from scratch and prepare for NEET. That means two years of studying abroad will go to waste,” she told ThePrint.
“Final-year students will also have to appear for FMGE and if they pass, they have to go for two years of internship instead of one year. That means we will be on the back foot compared to our peers,” said Aayushi Tanwar (21), another student.
News agency PTI quoted sources within the NMC as saying that students who do not agree with the proposals can complete their medical studies in “CIS countries such as Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Romania that have already shown their willingness to allow the continuation of studies for the candidates affected by the global crisis in their countries”.
Aayushi’s father, Pradeep Tanwar, a property dealer in Delhi, was also part of Tuesday’s protest.
“We have already paid $5,000 every year for four years of my daughter’s studies in Kharkiv. We need clarity from the NMC if we are considering paying for the next semester too. Also, for the NMC to tell our children to go back to Europe if they don’t agree to their proposals is not only impractical but insensitive,” he told ThePrint.
‘Observership is temporary solution’
Starting 1 June, the government of West Bengal allowed 394 students who had been studying in medical colleges in Ukraine before the Russian invasion to undergo “observership” in state-run medical colleges.
The Karnataka government had also promised to make an exception for 700 medical students who returned from Ukraine by accommodating them in 60 medical colleges in the state.
Sayan Chowdhury, a fourth-year student at Ivano Frankivsk National Medical University in Ukraine, said he has been attending practical classes and lectures at Kolkata’s College of Medicine & JMN Hospital, a government university in West Bengal.
“Luckily, my state has allowed Ukraine returnees to attend lectures and practical classes in state colleges. They have also given us ID cards. But this is in an ‘observership’ capacity, which means that it is a temporary solution. It isn’t exactly auditing nor is it a formal enrolment,” Chowdhury told ThePrint.
He added, “The state colleges are still waiting for a permanent solution from the NMC. I am also getting anxious because I have not yet paid for my next semester at Ivano Frankivsk National Medical University. I need some clarity from the NMC in order to make such decisions.”
Students also pointed out that “observership” does not mean students will be eligible for the FMGE.
(Edited by Amrtansh Arora)