Supreme Court allows medical students a second chance

Indian medical students who returned from abroad due to the COVID-19 pandemic, war and other exigencies were in a tizzy following the decision of India’s Supreme Court on 29 March allowing them two attempts to complete the MBBS (Bachelor of Medicine, Bachelor of Surgery) medical degree.

They say it will extend the time it will take for them to qualify by several years even though they have continued with online courses from their medical institutions abroad.

They also criticised the time it has taken for the matter to be heard, saying the government had dragged its heels about accommodating their needs.

The Supreme Court ruling, which is an exceptional deviation from current regulations on medical students from abroad, affects students who returned from Ukraine after the Russian invasion last year and from China and the Philippines during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The ruling, directing India’s National Medical Commission to allow the one-time relaxation of its strict rules, was made after hearing petitions filed by medical students who had completed seven semesters in their respective foreign universities. These students completed their medical course through online mode while in India.

Students had campaigned for over a year – and in the case of students locked out of China since 2020 due to COVID, for several years – to be allowed into Indian medical institutions in order to complete their medical degrees. However, this was not approved by medical education authorities.

Instead, in the wake of the Supreme Court’s ruling which the court described as being “on humanitarian grounds”, they will now have to take the medical theory exam based on the syllabus of the Indian MBBS exam, according to the guidelines of the country’s National Medical Commission. Students will not be required to register in a medical college in India for this.

Practical (clinical) exams must be taken a year later, and will take place at select government medical institutes that have been tasked with conducting them. After clearing these two exams, students would be required to complete two years of mandatory hospital internship.

The official representative of China’s Ningbo University, Dr Nimshad, CEO of Eduzone Consultants, whose students had petitioned the courts, told University World News that according to this decision the students will need four extra years to qualify.

“They have to pass MBBS exams in two attempts. In the first attempt it will be theory and then they have to sit idle for a year and then appear for a practical examination. Then they have to complete two years of internship,” Nimshad said. Previously foreign students only had to complete a one-year internship.

He said many students have returned to China to complete their practicals as it will be much easier for them to do it there. “After completing the practical examination, they can take the Foreign Medical Graduates Examination (FMGE) [in India] and then go for a one-year internship,” he added.

All students graduating from medical schools abroad have to take the FMGE in order to practise as doctors in India. The FMGE tends to have a very high failure rate.

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