It was our second year of medical school. We had heard stories of diligent physicians doing all they can to lift patients from the jaws of death. After a year and a half of taking courses, learning the course of a vessel, the physiology of a nerve and the biochemistry of cholesterol, we finally had the chance to enter a hospital. We had to learn the tactics needed to get a useful clinical history and how to hit the hammer on a knee jerk test. We had so much to learn in such a short time.
Equipped with Littmann stethoscopes, we reached the rooms crowded with patients. “Patients are your best teachers,” we reminded ourselves. We were getting ready to go to the patients when the residents stopped us. The next day, the government announced the containment linked to Covid-19. We went back home. There were online courses to supplement our studies, but they could only simulate hands-on experience. Over the next two years, our learning never picked up momentum.
We came back in our last year – the most difficult year of the program. There were nine lengthy topics to cover in just eight months. Our teachers expected us to know the basics and skipped them during teaching. But we couldn’t learn them properly earlier, so we had extra work to do. Our anxiety was already at its height when a new exam schedule was announced.
A senior official spoke anonymously about the National Exit Test (NExT) to a newspaper, which was reported by other news portals without much additional information, stating that the new model will first be implemented for the lot graduated in 2023.
NExT will replace the two-decade-old NEET-PG that medical graduates had to go through to gain postgraduate places. Borrowing heavily from the USMLE (United States Medical Licensing Exam) – a multi-stage assessment that tests medical student recall, concepts and clinical skills to enable practice in the United States – it will be a three-day affair with morning and evening changes every day.
Taking place just after the final year, it will also remove a year of preparation, with the NEET taking place after the students’ internship. Preparing for 19 subjects, with a flurry of tests and homework, seems almost impossible. That too, when nothing concrete has been shared.
The problem is compounded for students who plan to travel out of India for their masters. They should prepare for this exam and get at least passing grades to get their undergraduate degree. They would also no longer be able to get internship extensions for electives at hospitals in the United States, as an internship must be completed within the stipulated time frame under the new rules.
Passing an exam that would also double the final professional theory exam is also fraught with pitfalls for colleges. The most basic is being able to complete the program on time – in fact, at least two months before the exam, which seems absurd right now, given that many private colleges in UP have only held exams pre-final professionals only in March.
The abrupt introduction of baffling changes over the past few days leading to major reviews has been a recurring pattern of late. Take, for example, the INI-CET, an exam that allows entry into the most sought-after central institutions. It replaced the old exam just a month before its due date.
Every official order sounds like a warning. An update earlier this year said the exam would be held in two parts – once after the second year of college and the next after the final year. Barring sketchy information about the basic structure of the course and a few scattered facts that arise unpredictably, students wonder about the details of an exam they may have to attempt in January.
Gupta is a New-Delhi based writer and medical student