‘Don’t Make It Worse For Us’: An MBBS Doctor on Postponement of NEET-PG Exam

As an MBBS doctor, I was preparing for my residency in the US. But when the pandemic hit, something within me snapped and I decided I didn’t want to go to the US any longer — I wanted to do my residency in India and serve my country.

This was the beginning of the most agonising few months of my life.

Our National Entrance Eligibility Exam (NEET) for post graduation (PG) was scheduled to be held in January 2021 like every other year. This is an exam that allows thousands of MBBS doctors to pursue residency. Most aspirants study for 8-10 hours a day for a year or more for the exam that makes us into PG residents – the very same PG residents who have been the backbone of our health system through this pandemic.

However, much to our sorrow, the exam date was pushed to April 2021. We accepted our fate even though multiple national exams were conducted in the meantime.

I can speak with conviction for myself and other NEET-PG examinees that each one of us contributed in some way or the other – while we  studied day and night, we attended endless calls from those familiar to us to treat them for COVID-19 to the best of our abilities because we believed it was our responsibility. Numerous students were also coerced to take up jobs in these harsh times due to unsound financial conditions.

Come April 15, three days before the scheduled NEET-PG exam – that was to be taken by around 1.75 lakh doctors spread across India with all necessary precautions in place and most aspirants vaccinated – a notice was issued by the authorities saying that exam was to be postponed again keeping in mind the health of the young doctors. At the same time, various large political rallies and religious gatherings were taking place.

This postponement may sound as a reasonable measure to some, however it has far-reaching implications not just on NEET-PG aspirants but also for the future of healthcare in India.

On May 2, 2021, the NEET-PG exam was yet again postponed till at least August. We, young MBBS doctors, have been asked to step into the battlefield and undertake COVID-19 duties.

While we do understand the gravity of the situation and want to help, our country needs to help us too.

We are now expected to do eight-ten hour shifts in PPE, drenched in sweat, come back home and put our families at risk while also studying for an exam that decides our entire future. Ours is an exam for which we have studied for over a year now. It is physically and mentally impossible and exhausting for anyone to start working amidst these testing times, lose touch with studying and then revise everything in a month’s time to take the exam.

While I know my duty as a doctor is to treat people, my father is immunocompromised. I want to I want him at all costs. Isn’t my first duty to protect my parents, my near and dear ones who live with me? Isn’t it unfair to expect us to step out and do a duty for which I will either be paid nothing or be given meagre salary or just be given a certificate of “samman” while simultaneously losing the possibility of securing a good rank to get a PG seat?

Also read: ‘No Answers’: Kashmir Doctor Narrates Helplessness in the Face of COVID-19

What about those interns who have been working in Covid duty for over a year without any certificate? Have we done anything for them? How can we expect final-year MBBS students to provide tele-consultations while they are barely prepared to solve real life problems?

The ramifications of this is also being felt by current MD/MS/DNB residents who have been working tirelessly since March 2020 and are stretched beyond their capacities. An anatomy resident who took up a non-clinical branch is being pushed into Covid wards, but she’s doing her job because she thinks she has to serve the nation in this hour.

Isn’t it somewhere our government’s responsibility to take care of her and provide her decent incentives to keep her going? Isn’t it the government’s responsibility to assure her that her future is secure?

A dermatology resident who wanted to learn about skin diseases hasn’t seen dermatology patients in a long time because he is on Covid duty too. This pandemic isn’t going anywhere for a long time. We are going to produce doctors who are experts in treating COVID-19 but don’t know how to treat any other disease. Have we come up with any assurances for them? They were looking forward to seeing new residents join soon, with whom they could split their workloads.

Final-year residents who would have passed out by now and become senior residents are still working as junior residents and taking care of entire Covid wards. All they were asking the authorities is to be promoted to the post of senior resident and be paid a better salary than a small stipend of Rs 30,000-60,000 per month (varies with state). These residents are in their late twenties and are taking care of entire families on these meagre stipends. Are they not being promoted to senior residency just so you can keep making them work as cheap labour?

People say that ours is a noble profession, but does that rip us off of our right to earn decently? Don’t we need money to pay for rent and food and medicines?

We want to be out there saving lives and helping our country survive this pandemic, but we are not being provided any support.

Doctors are already under immense pressure, both physically and mentally. Please do not make it worse for us. Please help us so we can help you. Please do not choke the medical profession to death, young students are watching us and are watching our plight. Please don’t discourage them from taking up the medical profession in this country.

The pandemic has made us realise the importance of a good medical infrastructure more than ever. We are going to need a lot doctors, nurses and paramedical staff in the future. Please make India a place where we know we are valued for our work and supported in our fight against all diseases.

A few timely decisions could have solved the problem of lack of doctors in our country to fight the pandemic. I sincerely request to government of India to review the situation in June and conduct the exam at the earliest possible date. Once we crack the exam and join PG courses, we will happily do our Covid duties knowing we don’t have to simultaneously study for one of the most competitive exams of our life and that our futures are secure. Students who do not crack the exam can be hired as non-academic junior residents.

Featured image credit: Reuters