Bangalore: Fewer Indian students want to be doctors because it takes longer to graduate in medicine than in any other subject and entry-level salaries are relatively lower than that for an engineer.
To be sure, demand for admission to medical schools is still higher than supply, but the progressively declining number of students appearing for India’s largest examination for entrance to such schools should be cause for concern in a country that is short of around 600,000 doctors, according to an estimate by the country’s apex planning agency, the Planning Commission.
“It’s a market need-based shift. Students are increasingly opting for engineering. An engineering graduate can get a salary of Rs20,000-40,000, while a person with an MBBS degree gets Rs12,000,” said M.C. Sharma, controller of exams, Central Board of Secondary Education, which conducts this examination, the All India Pre-Medical Test, or AIPMT.
In 2006, 233,591 students appeared for the exam. This fell to 210,318 in 2007 and to 161,230 in 2008. This year, only 145,200 students have registered for the exam. India’s 289 medical schools can admit up to 31,298 students every year. Of this, 10,000 is through AIPMT. The rest of the students are admitted through state-level admission tests.
Mint couldn’t immediately ascertain the trend in state-level examinations, although it is likely that the trend in AIPMT has been repeated in these.
According to the Medical Council of India, the country has one doctor for every 1,722 people. Data from the World Health Organization shows that the doctor to patient ratio in India is 6:10,000 (or 1:1667), compared with 14:10,000 (or 1:714) in China, 26:10,000 (1:384) in the US and 23:10,000 (1:434) in the UK.
That number is unlikely to get any better because the number of students opting for biology in school—a pre-requisite for medical school admission—is falling by around 15% a year, according to the head of a large Bangalore school. In every batch, “75% of the students take non-medical, 15% opt for commerce and 10% select biology,” said S.R. Prabhakar, principal, DAV School.
This fall in interest in medicine can be attributed to several reasons: lower salaries for doctors, a much longer tenure for the course (5.6 years as compared to four years for engineering), limited postgraduate seats, and a mandatory one-year rural posting for postgraduate medical students.
“Being a doctor is an elite profession. The directive to go to villages and practice for 12 months has not been taken very kindly by these young people. For them it’s a loss of a year,” said Swati Popat Vats, director, Podar Education Network, which runs high schools and playschools across India.
Prabhakar said he has noticed that children of doctors, particularly those who have nursing homes of their own, are keen to join medical schools.
Meanwhile, coaching institutes across the country are feeling the pinch too. Patiala-based Lakshya, which has been coaching students for both medical and non-medical entrance exams since 2006, had about 35 medical students in the first year, which came down to 15 in the second year and “hardly has any queries for this year”, according Vamsi Krishna, co-founder and executive director.
Brilliant Tutorials Pvt. Ltd, one of the oldest firms in the business, has also seen a fall of around 20% in the number of students preparing for AIPMT, according to K. Ravi, a general manager with the company.
Still, the slowdown in the economy and the reduced hiring by software companies—in some cases, these firms are not hiring at all, and some are even laying off people—that used to hire engineers by the thousands could, if it lasts, see more people turn to recession-proof professions.
Boom or bust—people fall ill.