A national-level examination proposed as a final year test for all MBBS students, licentiate and PG entrance test is set to be delayed by a year to 2024 due to a lack of preparations and clarity of its framework, top government officials said.
This disclosure comes even as the National Medical Commission (NMC) in its recent replies to a number of the Right to Information queries has maintained that the test will begin in 2023.
As per the NMC Act, the National Exit Test (NeXT) is to be conducted within three years of the constitution of NMC, which supplanted the Medical Commission of India as a regulator for medical education and the profession in 2020.
“Discussions are happening whether the National Board of Examinations (NBE) or the All India Institute of Medical Sciences, New Delhi, should conduct the test,” said a senior official in the medical education wing of the Union health ministry.
The framework of the examination, such as the syllabus to be covered or whether this will be an analytical test or a multiple choice questions based test, is also yet to be decided, the official said, adding the NMC is not yet fully prepared to conduct the test in a few months’ time and, therefore, the earliest it can happen is in 2024.
As of now, the NBE under the health ministry conducts the National Eligibility cum Entrance Test (PG) for admission into MS and MD (Master of Surgery and Doctor of Medicine) courses, while the final year MBBS examinations are conducted by individual colleges.
Students who study medicine abroad and want to practice in India are required to clear the Foreign Medical Graduate Examination, which is also conducted by the NBE. This examination will also be subsumed by NeXT.
A query seeking an official response from the NMC chairman SC Sharma remained unanswered but officials in the Commission, on the condition of anonymity, said apart from completing its examination cell, deciding on an agency that will organise the test and giving sufficient time to students to switch and prepare for the new test will also be required NeXT can be started.
“We would also need to carry out mock tests before the actual examination can begin,” said an official.
‘Lack of coordination'
Dr Rohan Krishnan, who heads the Federation of All India Medical Association, alleged that the government is taking the high-stake examination very casually.
“For last many years, the pattern of NEET-PG has been badly disrupted and this year even the process of counselling is yet to start,” he said. “We get thousands of emails every day on whether next year it is going to be NEET PG or NeXT for admission into PG courses but there is absolutely no official clarity on the matter,” he said.
According to Krishnan, there seems to be a lack of coordination between the NBE, the Medical Counselling Committee under the health ministry and the NMC.
“The truth is nobody wants to take the onus while the aspirants suffer,” he said, pointing out that while the final-year MBBS examination only covers the subjects taught in the fifth year, in the case of NEET PG, questions are asked from the entire MBBS curriculum.
“Should not students be told even the basic information such as what will be the pattern of NeXT?” he asked.
Next year, about 70,000 students will appear for the final-year MBBS examination, while nearly double that number will take up NEET PG.
Delay not good
Dr CV Birmanandham, a medical education expert and a former vice president of MCI, said NeXT would be a landmark measure to improve the quality of medical education in the country.
“There have been genuine concerns that many MBBS students, mostly in private medical colleges, get their degrees without requisite learning and later practice as doctors with questionable knowledge and skill-sets,” he said.
“I, therefore, feel that NeXT should be conducted as early as possible and any delay will be detrimental to the steps being taken to raise the bar of medical education in the country,” he said.