Though the issue of scarcity of medical professionals is plaguing India—according to WHO data, the country has only 80 medicos per lakh population compared to 130 in China; this too falls to 36 if one ignores those without medical qualification—there is a much bigger problem related to the quality of doctors. Since 2010, at least 69 Indian medical colleges and teaching hospitals have been accused of cheating, rigging entrance exams or accepting bribes to admit students. However, the government may have found a way to beat this. The health ministry has recommended amending the Indian Medical Council Act to make a National Exit Examination (NEXT) mandatory for all graduates to start their practice. Under the new system, all graduates will be required to clear the exit test to be eligible for any job across the country. What’s more, NEXT would serve as an entrance test for those applying for post-graduate studies, with 50% seats reserved for those serving as medical officers with three years of experience in remote and/or difficult areas.
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The move would provide a much needed impetus to healthcare in rural areas, where there is a dearth of doctors and medical facilities. Critics would argue that medical acuity cannot be decided on the basis of one test, but there is a need to improve the standards in the country. An exit test would ensure that. The test will also serve as a dipstick for assessing the quality of the colleges. Any college with more than 80% students clearing the test would figure higher in rankings. The government just needs to steer clear of the kind of reservation it has been pushing so far.