With the unprecedented pandemic disrupting the entire education system, a cloud of uncertainty is hanging over the future of final year MBBS students. The final year, well known to be the hardest year amongst all the four and a half years of MBBS journey has turned more tougher for the students this year.

As we know, the final year MBBS curriculum consists of a written examination, a clinical examination to assess the clinical competencies and skills, and a viva voce examination. The candidates are expected to exhibit an acceptable level of competence in all the areas of knowledge, attitudes, and skills being evaluated by the university appointed external and internal faculties who are typically professors and HODs of medical colleges. But without getting proper academic classes and clinical exposures how are the students of the current batch expected to do that?

The current final year MBBS students don’t seem to have a perfect ending for their academic session, they have missed their classroom lectures and bulk of their clinical case studies, all thanks to the pandemic. Apart from this, most of their clinics and hospitals have turned into dedicated COVID hospitals. As a last resort they are now learning from home or hostels through online classes and case discussions. Since most of the hospitals have only COVID-19 cases, other patients are not getting admitted to such facilities resulting in a drastic drop in the clinical exposure of students. While the senior faculty members are all engaged in the fight against COVID-19, the students are now taking on yet another fight to safeguard their academic and professional careers.

In the wake of the prevailing situation, medical students from across the country are demanding the postponement or cancellation of MBBS exams. Students are raising their voice citing the challenges before them which include lack of academic guidance, non-availability of books, and notes essential for the exams and moreover, the risk of catching infections amid exams.

To strengthen their demands, the MBBS students have also begun an online petition, wherein a collective voice is being raised against the exams, which are otherwise scheduled to be conducted in August. Through the petition, a number of medical students have requested the authorities to postpone the medical exams for now, as the country is witnessing a steep rise in the daily number of COVID-19 positive cases.

Some students have also put forth the challenge of writing exams with gloves on, which has now become a mandate in protection against the coronavirus. Also, it would be a task to maintain social distancing while appearing collectively at examination centers, the students have voiced. Earlier too, students preparing for medical exams have raised their concerns with respect to travelling to the exam centers amid the pandemic. 

However, the board of governors in the suppression of the Medical Council of India (MCI) has issued an advisory stating that no batch should be permitted to move to the next level of the MBBS course without an examination. The August 8 MCI advisory stated that medical colleges should aim to complete the first MBBS course within two months of reopening of colleges and that the examinations should be completed within a month.

Regarding the conduct of practical/clinical examinations, the board stated that since the objective of such examination is to ascertain skills relevant to the subject as outlined in the respective course curricula, alternative methods of skill evaluation which may include Objective Structured Clinical Examination (OSCE), simulations, case scenarios, etc. may be used in lieu of clinical cases, wherever the latter is not feasible as provided for in the regulations. In short, MCI wants to conduct the examinations regardless of the safety concerns and challenges faced by future physicians.

Meanwhile, various state governments have already directed the final year MBBS students to report for COVID-19 duty to meet the shortage of healthcare professionals amid an exponential rise in the number of cases. States like Gujarat, Karnataka, and Haryana have already deployed  students on the battlefield.

However, final year MBBS students in private colleges and those pursuing internships claim they have been asked to report to fever clinics or COVID care centres on short notice. Many alleged that they have been asked to make their own arrangements for accommodation and pay for their treatment if tested positive for COVID-19.

An MBBS student at a private medical college in Bengaluru said he got a message on Thursday morning asking him to report to their teaching hospital in two hours. “We were later told that we will have to go to the Department of Medical Education on Friday morning where we will be posted for COVID-19 duty. We have not been given any instructions,” the student said. As it suggests, the students are not given any sort of training or safety instructions even when they are asked to work at highly Infectious COVID-19 treatment facilities.

However, the students and parents have raised their concerns over the move. “Pushing final year medical students to join COVID-19 field duty is illegal and arbitrary”, the Gujarat Medicos Parents Association, an association formed by parents of medical students has claimed. “It is also in contravention to the Union Health Ministry’s direction that states final year MBBS students cannot be assigned any clinical duties” the association further added.

It’s high time to roll out a definite strategy regarding the exams and academic career of the final year medical students. The authorities must address the concerns of the entire student community and should ensure that no thorn of uncertainty is left on their road to becoming a future doctor!

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