Doctor's Dilemma
The Morning Standard|September 20, 2021
MBBS and PG students are worried about not having access to skill-based practicals, while their professors agree that virtual teaching can never match what is taught in classroom, reports Somrita Ghosh
Somrita Ghosh

For Mehak Singh, the first year of pursuing an MBBS degree at University College Of Medical Sciences (UCMS) in 2019 was fairly smooth-sailing. Then, the pan-India lockdown was imposed in March 2020 and her classes were shifted online. When the situation improved, physical classes resumed but again discontinued in the second wave. Attending online seminars and classes were doable, but what majorly impacted her was missing out on practicals.

“There are two requirements in the medical stream. First, you read, secure good marks and top the exams. And second, you become a good doctor. I don’t doubt myself about getting good marks, but my confidence is low as I do not have as much (on-ground) experience, such as going to different departments, talking to people and understanding the complexities… as my seniors have. I feel less prepared,” said Singh, now a second-year MBBS student.

MAIN WORRY: NO PRACTICAL EXPERIENCE

Singh voices the lament of medical students and their tribulations in the past year-and-a-half in tackling the pandemic. Along with healthcare workers, even MBBS final-year students and PG students were roped in when hospitals were overwhelmed with a sudden surge in Covid cases. Overnight, the focus shifted towards tackling the Covid situation, and in the process, academics has taken a hit.

Dr Vishakha Arya, a third-year PG student, Pathology, Lady Hardinge Medical College, says the theoretical bit can be studied.

“But for pathology, we need slides and microscopes. This gap can still be remedied to an extent. So if earlier interns gave their 100 per cent, now they will have to put in 200 per cent. A lot depends now on the individual and his/her ability to take up challenges. For instance, in my time, OTs were not functional and surgeries were not being performed. So, we did not receive many specimens. But I experienced these in my first and second years. However, those who joined last year hardly got that opportunity,” observed Arya.

Dr Setu Gupta, who is pursuing a super-speciality course at AIIMS in Endocrinology, chose this “premier institute” because the facility deals with rare diseases, which widens the scope of learning for medical students. “Getting a chance to deal with rare cases is the biggest advantage at AIIMS. I didn’t get to witness and discuss these cases, and this has undoubtedly affected my course. However, I can catch up as my field involves knowledge-based studies, but those who were most affected are the ones who undertook surgery,” said Gupta.

“Thesis work at PG level was affected as there were hardly any cases. OPDs — where we see thousands of patients — were shut down. Some have their thesis on emergency and follow-ups which didn’t take place. The gastro department remained shut for many days, and all manpower was all diverted for Covid duty. To go on the field, you must have good (on-duty) experience, but that was largely missing. In fact, many medical students developed suicidal thoughts and faced severe burn-outs owing to stress,” commented Dr Dinesh Gora, Senior Resident, Trauma Surgery and Critical Care, AIIMS.

PROFESSORS TRYING TO OFFER A HELPING HAND

Meanwhile, professors and senior doctors are rising to the challenge to bridge the gap in academics. Last year, when Covid cases began dipping, the Resident Doctors’ Association of Maulana Azad Medical College demanded restarting academic courses and non-Covid-19 services in a phased manner. Last month, resident doctors of AIIMS appealed to the management to reopen the trauma centre for non-Covid patients as most of the beds were lying vacant.

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