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In between denial and acceptance, what is the future of Ukraine-returned MBBS students in India?

The gap between the standard of medical education in India and Ukraine- remains a major reason behind NMC’s reluctance in giving admission to these students.

In between denial and acceptance, what is the future of Ukraine-returned MBBS students in India?
Of the 18,000 students who were rescued from Ukraine, nearly 3,000 are final-year students.

Of the 18,000 Indian medical students who returned from Ukraine, nearly 15,000 await their turn to be absorbed in Indian medical colleges amid an air of uncertainty.  The wait is believed to have caused anxiety among the lot.  It has been almost five months since ‘Operation Ganga’ – wherein students were evacuated from the war-torn Ukraine, but there seems to be no end to their woes. The National Medical Council (NMC), the regulatory body of medical education in the country, said that there is no provision under its ambit to absorb these students in Indian medical colleges. “Only those students are allowed to pursue medicine in India who are in the eighth and ninth semester and have got a degree certificate from the respective college. They are supposed to apply for a provisional certificate over here after passing the screening test- Foreign Medical Graduate Exam (FMGE). After that, they will have to complete two years of internship programme in India to be able to practice in the country,” said Shivkumar Shankar Utture, member, National Medical Council (NMC).  

For medical students who were in their first and second year, NMC has said they can appear for the National Eligibility cum Entrance Test (NEET)- which is known to be a difficult one. Low score in NEET was the very reason why Harsh Goel aged 21, MBBS student from Ivano Frankivsk National Medical University, Ukraine, chose to go abroad to study medicine. “I chose to go to Ukraine to study MBBS because I could not get admission in any of the Indian government colleges due to my scores in NEET and the fees in private colleges were extremely high. The only option I was left with was to go to another country to follow my passion,” he said. What’s even more difficult for these students is that, unlike the third and fourth-year students, they reportedly cannot take a transfer to other European universities, let alone manage funds to pay hefty fees in Indian private colleges- which costs about 15-20 lakhs for the five-and-a-half year long course. NMC’s recently issued memorandum, which has been challenged at the Madras High Court, insisted the fees for 50% of seats in all deemed to be universities and self-financing medical colleges must be at par with the fees collected by the government medical colleges. 

The recent relaxation by the NMC, announced in an order dated July 28 to allow final year medical students from countries such as China and Ukraine to sit for the FMGE screening test will also be of little help to the students as only those of them are eligible for it who are granted a certificate of completion on or before June 30, 2022. However, of the 18,000 students who were rescued from Ukraine, nearly 3,000 are final-year students according to the Parents’ Association of the Ukraine MBBS students, who will get their degrees in October, 2022 – that is four months after NMC’s approved date. “Practically speaking this is more like a punishment to final year students than relief. Had war not been there, these students would have simply completed one year of internship after clearing FMGE and they were good to go. However, now as per NMC’s rules they have to undergo an additional year of internship for no fault of theirs,” said Rajesh N Bhatt, a Gujarat based doctor and, parent of Samarth R Bhatt, who has completed fourth year from Bukovinian State Medical University, Chernivtsi, Ukraine. Industry experts opined that if need be, the council can accommodate all the Ukraine returnees without any difficulty. As per NMC there are 612 medical colleges in India of which 322 are government and 290 are private medical colleges. If final year students are excluded who have got permission from NMC to complete their internship in India, admitting nearly 24 students per college and approximately 5 to 6 students in each year can solve the problem. 

However, the gap between the standard of medical education in India and Ukraine remains a major reason behind NMC’s reluctance in giving admission to these students. In India, medical education closely resembles that of Britain and several other Commonwealth countries. On the contrary, most colleges in countries like Ukraine and China follow the American model. The curriculum in both the countries also vary accordingly. More importantly, many of the Ukraine returned Indian students have been attending theory classes online which is not accepted by the medical body. NMC has said that it cannot compromise with the standards of Indian medical education by simply admitting these students here. Nevertheless, many institutes have offered to run courses to bridge the gap between the curriculum taught to these students and Indian medical education standards. 

Despite that, another hurdle that lies ahead for these students is the difficulty level of the FMGE screening test- a mandatory criteria to continue medical education in India. FMGE is notorious for its low pass percentage. According to data from the National Board of Examination (NBE), which conducts the test, in the past five years only 21.3% of the students from Ukraine have been able to clear this test. In 2021, of the 4,311 students who appeared for the test, merely 26.05% students could pass. At present, the future of thousands of students who are at least allowed to appear for the test, is dependent on this exam which has proven not to be very friendly for them. This shows the meager possibilities for Ukraine returned MBBS students to secure a future in India, unless the authorities take special measures to accommodate these students and save their careers.

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