Sunday, May 15, 2011

Doctor, anyone?

Anshuman Verma, 36, belongs to a family of healers. His great grandfather and grandfather were reputed doctors in Rawalpindi. His parents are doctors. As many as 16 of his extended family is a medical doctor. Anshuman is not. He chose engineering and then an MBA. He works as a banker. Anshuman explains his choices very simply: "Medicine involves too much rigorous training. I saw my parents working hard but getting little gratitude in return." He may be 36, but Anshuman seems right on trend.

A.K. Agarwal, Dean of Maulana Azad Medical College (MAMC) says the number of aspirants for medical courses has dropped 30% in recent years. "Everyone wants to make quick money. Medicine doesn't allow that," he laments. Agarwal pinpoints a trend away from medicine that schools pick up on in Class XI. They report a substantial drop in students opting for biology. Abha Sehgal, Principal of Delhi's Sanskriti School says "her students prefer physics and chemistry with either economics or computer science. Engineering and MBA are more attractive options as the incubation period is short. Only those dedicated to medicine take up biology now."

India is feeling the pinch. Its ratio is one doctor for every 1,700 people. That is way below the global average and way below whats required. Is the big turnoff simply the fact that a medical degree takes lots of time and trouble to acquire?

All those years: There was a time when an MBBS degree was enough to establish oneself as a doctor. Today, it takes years longer. There's MBBS, then MD, then DM... it seems to go on and on. Unsurprising then that Utkash Chaturvedi, 15, who studies at Mother's International School in Delhi, chose computer science rather than biology. "Biology involves mugging, whereas in physics and chemistry, the concepts are interesting. There's no sure shot route to success in medicine. How many can get into good private hospitals or set up their own practice?" Chaturvedi asks with a wisdom beyond his years.

But Anshuman's father, a consultant physician, seems to understand our changing times the best. R.N. Verma says "doctors were daredevils" back in the days when his Pathankot-based father, who had just an MBBS degree, would do major surgery and treat colds. "My father used to make IV fluids himself, sometimes using coconut water. Once a patient was brought to him with a broken spine. With few options, he got a galvanized metal sheet cut in the shape of his body, padded it with cotton and immobilized the patient in it. Primitive, but it worked," he says.

The pressure on doctors today is to become a superspecialist with all that this entails in years of study. But S.K.S. Marya, Chairman, Max Institute of Orthopaedic and Joint Replacement, says this may be useless "if a doctor doesn't have good diagnostic skills. The more you know, the less you know. Today, you have a knee specialist, a neck specialist,a hip specialist ... but is that what our country needs India should have 80% doctors as general practitioners as in the UK. That will take the load off senior consultants."

Delayed gratification: Anshuman agrees that long years of study mean that by the time a highly qualified doctor starts to earn a proper living, he's past 30. "As an engineer with an MBA, I started earning at 23. I have already changed four jobs," he says. Marya agrees that it now seems to take too long to get just a little and that may be too little for a consumer-centric age.

"Today, there are many material attractions designer clothes, watches, LCDs... So why wouldn't a bright young doctor earning Rs. 80,000 as a junior consultant feel cheated when his classmates in other professions start at Rs. 2.5 million a year?"

More Trouble: Doctors are often a harried lot and other professions mean more leisure, say medical students. Marya, who studied at the prestigious All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), recalls slogging as a junior resident. "I would do 36 hours of duty at times."

Source: The Times of India, May 15, 2011

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