After repeated pleas by a large number of doctors wishing to pursue their postgraduate degrees to defer the National Eligibility cum Entrance Test (Postgraduate) or NEET PG, scheduled for May 21, failed to move the government, the students have filed a petition in the Supreme Court to postpone the examination.
The case is up for hearing on May 13.
NEET PG is the qualifying exam for those who have passed their MBBS level to take up broad speciality courses in medicine.
But why do the majority of students who are to appear in the NEET PG this year and are backed by various students’ associations apart from the Indian Medical Association (IMA) want the examination put off by a few weeks? Also, why is the National Board of Examination under the Union health ministry which conducts NEET PG not ready to budge from its stand? We try to explain everything here.
Why do the students want the examination pushed?
Prior to 2020, the NEET PG was held in January every year. The first year of the coronavirus pandemic, however, meant that no NEET PG was held the whole year as final-year MBBS students across the country were deployed for COVID-19 related duties. This examination, originally scheduled for January 2020, could be held finally in September 2021.
The counselling process for the admission, following the results of the examination, however, is still not completed.
This year, 1.8 lakh persons who cleared the MBBS and internships have registered for NEET PG qualifying which is mandatory for admission to about 35,000 MS (master of surgery) and MD (doctor of medicine) seats and various other diploma courses.
Dr Rohan Krishnan, president of the Federation of All India Medical Association (FAIMA), said that it was mismanagement on the part of the Medical Counselling Committee under the health ministry that had led to the delay of counselling by several months.
“A process which should have ideally been completed by January this year but latest by March has been so delayed that counselling at the state level is still under way,” he said. “Moreover, the counselling for the College of Physicians and Surgeons (a body in Mumbai that offers diploma courses) is clashing with NEET PG.”
Government authorities said that a litigation in the Supreme Court related to reservations for other backward castes in PG seats in medical colleges pushed the process of counselling by a few months.
Dr Krishnan pointed out that a large number of students who did not get a college or branch of their liking are also to reappear in NEET PG this year.
“For them, it's cruel to be forced to appear in the examination when they are in the middle of the counselling process for last year’s examination and had no time to prepare at all,” Dr Krishnan said.
Why is the government reluctant to relent?
Officials in the medical education division of the Directorate General of Health Services said that there was no plan as of now to change the date of examination.
“Two batches of PG in medical colleges are already derailed because of unavoidable reasons which pushed the NEET PG examination,” said a senior official. “We now want to restore normalcy by holding the examination earlier than last year. Also, changing the examination date will incur additional costs.”
But Krishnan stressed that the government cannot think of restoring normalcy at the cost of students’ futures and careers. “It is the medical fraternity which has borne the maximum brunt due to the pandemic but normalcy cannot be forced on a system that has suffered so much in the last two years,” he said.
Are all doctors in support of deferring the examination?
Several medical associations, including FAIMA, claim that the majority of the NEET PG aspirants—around 1.5 lakh—are in support of postponing the examination for now.
Krishnan claimed that in an online poll conducted by the association, 85 percent voted in favour of deferring the examination.
Their demand got a shot in an arm when the IMA—the largest body of doctors in India—shot off a letter to health minister Mansukh Mandaviya saying that the root cause of the problem was inordinate delay and non-adherence to the time schedules by the National Medical Commission and the admitting authorities when the pandemic broke out, where the students are not at fault but are required to “pay the price”.