In what could become another Centre-State flashpoint, the West Bengal government has allotted seats to second-and third-year medical students from Ukraine even as the country’s apex medical education regulator maintained that it is not allowed.
Students who complete their education in such a manner cannot apply for the screening test that every foreign medical graduate has to take before practising in India, officials from the National Medical Commission (NMC) and the Health Ministry told The Indian Express.
On April 28, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee had announced that her government would accommodate 412 students who were forced to return to the state from Ukraine following the Russian invasion. She also lashed out at the Centre for “not taking any responsibility” for these students.
Of the 412 returnees, 172 students, who were in second and third year of their medical education in Ukraine, have been allowed to attend practical classes at different government medical colleges in the state.
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This announcement, Union government officials said, is not in line with the current guidelines of NMC, which state that foreign medical graduates should have completed their theory and practical medical education and a 12-month internship at the same college.
NMC is India’s apex regulatory authority for medical education.
“Any decision about medical students from Ukraine has to come from NMC. The current guidelines are very clear. These students (from Bengal who choose to attend practical classes in government colleges) will not be eligible for FMGE (Foreign Medical Graduates Exam),” an NMC official said.
A senior Health Ministry official agreed: “We have asked states not to make any irresponsible comments about the situation with Ukraine students. The (Union) government is looking at ways to get the students admitted to equivalent courses in other European countries.”
The NMC official said Bengal had sought no permission for this.
Asked whether the announcement on accommodating medical students from Ukraine went against the NMC guidelines, West Bengal’s director of medical education (DME), Debasis Bhattacharyya, argued, “We first increased the number of seats in our medical colleges and then decided to accommodate the students. So there should not be a problem (in them attending practical classes) once we have increased the (number of) seats.”
On May 10, Bhattacharyya had promised to get back on the specifics of violation of NMC guidelines. He had not responded until late Monday evening.
In addition to the 172 students in Bengal, another 135 students in fourth and fifth year have been allotted “observing seats” in government colleges to complete practical training.
Dr Rohan Krishnan, president of the Federation of All India Medical Association (FAIMA), said: “There is nothing called observing seats in India. Sometimes MBBS doctors work under various specialists for training in that particular area, which is referred to as observership. But that certainly cannot happen for someone who hasn’t even completed MBBS.”
Nearly 18,000 medical students were forced to leave their education midway and flee after Russia invaded Ukraine. NMC officials had earlier told The Indian Express that there was no way of incorporating such a large number of people in India, which has around 90,000 MBBS seats available for 2021, with around 16 lakh applicants.
“Apart from the students from Ukraine, there are nearly 65,000 others who are enrolled in countries such as China, the Philippines, and Georgia who haven’t been able to receive practical education due to travel restrictions. We have to think about those students, too,” the Health Ministry official said.
Meanwhile, at the behest of a student from China, the Supreme Court has directed NMC to formulate a policy over the next two months to grant temporary registration to those who have completed medical education in other countries but haven’t been able to do practical training.
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