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‘India needs a diverse set of medical professionals with global exposure’

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Salil Gupta, Regional Director South Asia at St George’s University (SGU), speaks with Sanjiv Das on how India can create an inclusive medical education system

What according to you needs to be done to improve the Indian medical education system?

Every year, approximately 1.5 million students appear for NEET examinations, of which around 65,000 get admitted in Indian medical institutions. The remaining applicants have to look for alternatives. However, the problem is that students who decide to obtain their medical degree aboard find most of the schools not approved by the Medical Council of India (MCI) and hence, cannot return home to practice after the completion of these courses.

What India needs today is a diverse set of medical professionals with global exposure to help educators keep up-to-date with the latest advances in medicine. This inclusive nature will also help them to be better doctors and human beings. Studying abroad may be one of the options for Indian medical students who want to equip themselves with the latest skills and knowledge needed to work in the 21st-century healthcare.

How is St George’s University (SGU) contributing towards bringing this change?

A great demand for medical courses coupled with a shortage of seats, inconsistent levels of funding and the lack of uniformity in Indian education has forced many to look elsewhere. Hence, it is understandable why students want to leave the country to study. Nevertheless, the challenge for these students is in identifying the right schools as most of them are not approved by MCI. This is the case with many schools in China and Eastern Europe, for example, which are popular study destinations for Indian students. However, on completion of their education from these schools, students must clear the Foreign Medical Graduates (FMG) examination if they wish to come back and practice in India — barely a few manage to clear it each year. For this very reason, many opt to study in the USA where, not only is the quality and standard of teaching, training and facilities are higher, but students can gain an internationally-recognised and well-respected degree allowing them to practice in countries like the USA and the UK, or return home to India.  However, getting to the USA is an extremely difficult task for them because they have to find an option among medical schools which have residency programmes in the UK or the USA. The St George’s University (SGU) Medical School is one of the most prestigious international medical colleges and is the largest international provider of doctors to the US with an outstanding United States Medical Licensing Exmination (USMLE) 1 first-time pass rate of 96 per cent. SGU ensures that students learn the latest medical and technological advancements and their degree has the recognition that allows them to practice medicine in the USA, India, and over 50 other countries.

SGU also seeks intelligent, dedicated, passionate students who will succeed in their professional objectives and become successful practitioners to add value to their communities and global health as a whole. To that end, we have various scholarship programmes at SGU which are robust, offering partial scholarships to students in need and to those who have demonstrated academic excellence.

How is SGU preparing students to solve India’s pressing healthcare problems?

Dr Linda Girgis, a physician and graduate from the SGU School of Medicine, explained, “It is difficult for many patients to see a doctor. Where there is no diversity, it may make it more intimidating for some patients to seek medical care, thus causing them harm.” For this reason, gaining a medical degree overseas with a licence to practice in medical institutions based in their home country is attractive in the global world where graduates may work in several different countries during their medical career, serving the needs of diverse populations. The same can be said for diversity in specialisation, especially in India, where the ratio of doctors is one doctor for every 10,189 people. By increasing the number of doctors with diverse specialisations, medical professionals returning from international studies will serve the specific needs of the population better.

How is SGU’s approach to education different from its counterparts?

SGU focuses on helping students attain the highest standards of professionalism through top-notch academic experiences. Our award-winning student support programme was recently recognised by the National Academic Advising Association which helps students with time management, efficient study and test-taking skills. Their distinguished faculty includes visiting professors from renowned institutes like the UK’s Cambridge University and the USA’s Harvard University. Moreover, the School of Medicine is one of the only few Caribbean schools to be accredited by the Caribbean Accreditation Authority for Education in Medicine and other Health Professions (CAAM-HP), while the Master of Public Health programme is accredited by the Council on Education for Public Health in the US – one of the only non-US institutions to receive this accreditation.

SGU focusses on objective structured clinical exams. What does it mean?

The courses at SGU provides students with background information regarding the various sources of information about standardised tests and, more specifically, reviews major testing tools used to measure standard academic achievement (for example, the USMLE). Other topics include the measurement of interests and attitudes, learning styles, and learning disabilities. Readings and discussions also focus on the issues of the ethics of educational evaluation and testing, as well as on methods for disseminating and reporting test information. The course is specifically designed to enhance clinical integration of basic sciences material. Also, the exams are in a USMLE board format to familiarise students with standardised testing methods required by medical licensers and given electronically using Examsoft. The Office of Career Guidance and Student Development (OCGSD) assists students in the Doctor of Medicine programme to find their way through postgraduate medical training and licensure procedures successfully and effectively. These programmes introduce students to the processes early in their academic careers to make a smoother transition. Starting in the basic science years, students are invited to a series of seminars. The seminars focus on the importance of preparation for the required comprehensive examinations as well as the USMLE Step 1, examination requirements, clinical rotation time schedules, and obtaining postgraduate training with specifics on how to prepare for the residency application process. As part of the Office of the Dean of Students, the OCGSD is staffed by faculty and alumni who can advise students on preparing for licensing examinations and offer counselling in speciality and residency selection, as well as the residency application process in the US and the UK.

How can SGU students become eligible to practice in India and other countries?

SGU has been recognised as an approved university by MCI. The accreditation enables graduates of SGU School of Medicine to practice in India, paving the way for Indian medical students to study at SGU and return home to practice medicine as fully trained doctors. The university is now the second-largest source of doctors for the entire US workforce and its 20,000 graduates comprise physicians, veterinarians, scientists, and public health and business professionals. An MD course at SGU provides ambitious students with the chance to study and work in multiple countries as part of their training and beyond. In addition to the University campus in Grenada, SGU also allows its MD students to apply to complete up to 50 per cent of their degree in the UK at Northumbria University in Newcastle.

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