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Medical fraternity rues bridge courses

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Indian Medical Association (IMA) – In order to meet the shortfall of practicing doctors, especially at secondary and primary healthcare level in districts and villages, policy-makers are increasingly leaning towards introducing bridge courses as a possible solution to meet the demand and supply shortfall.

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However, that has caused a lot of strife and unease among the community of qualified MBBS doctors at State and national level. Influential organizations of MBBS doctors such as the Indian Medical Association (IMA) have roundly criticized and threatened to launch an agitation over proposals to have such bridge courses. A majority of doctors see such bridge courses as a threat to their profession while others point out that if such ‘short-cuts’ are available, then what is the point in pursuing MBBS degree for over five years and later also struggle to complete a post-graduation, which will take away at least 8 years of their lives while they pursue academics.

The medical community in Telangana has been involved in a long-drawn battle with health authorities over Community Paramedical Training (CPMT) programme that allows Unregistered Medical Practitioners (UMPs) to be integrated into the health care delivery mechanism in the State.

With reports of a possible introduction of bridge course for pharmacists too, senior doctors in jest and aiming to ridicule the concept of bridge courses, point out that the policy-makers should rename MBBS as Masters in Bridge Building Studies (MBBS). The anger among qualified doctors in Telangana has only multiplied when NITI Aayog and Ministry of Health and Family Welfare (MOHFW) recently proposed a three-year bridge course for dental doctors, which will allow them (dentists) to practice medicine such as MBBS doctor.

Medical Fraternity

“Instead of wasting over five years for MBBS degree and before that undergoing training for a good EAMCET rank, we should have directly pursued BDS courses, as dental seats are readily available in private dental colleges that have mushroomed in large numbers,” JAC, Telangana Junior Doctors Association (TJDA) has said.

Based on various reports, the introduction of a three-year bridge course for Bachelor in Dental Sciences (BDS) graduates looks like a foregone conclusion. According to senior IMA office-bearers here and even media reports, the Prime Minister Office (PMO) has reportedly given its nod to introduce such a course for BDS graduates in April.

While State and national level IMAs have opposed the concept of bridge courses, policy-makers, including NITI Ayog, State and Central level health officials, on the other hand, have consistently supported the concept, which has created a lot of ill will and led to erosion of trust between the two.

The proposal to introduce a bridge course for BDS graduates has put the dental profession in the State and elsewhere in focus. According to senior dental practitioners in Hyderabad, the dental health care sector in the two Telugu-speaking States is struggling for survival and a bridge course could be a way out for unemployed young BDS graduates.

Dental sector is in crisis

Members of local chapters from Indian Dental Association (IDA) said that dental care sector is struggling due to a large number of dentists, not many government jobs, no proper infrastructure support and lack of job opportunities in private sector.

Till a few years ago, there were anywhere between 40 and 60 BDS seats in each government dental college in the State. Now, however, due to the massive proliferation of private dental colleges, the dental seats in India is close to 40,000. In TS, earlier only Osmania Dental College used to offer BDS seats but now there are 23 dental colleges in TS and AP producing annually roughly 2,500 BDS students. A majority of fresh BDS students struggle for employment due to lack of openings in State-run hospitals and the private sector.

The Dental Council of India (DCI) has maintained that if dentists are allowed to practice such as MBBS doctors, then underserved rural regions in the country will have access to doctors. However, many argue that BDS and MBBS courses are academically very different and there is no guarantee that a three-year course will be effective.

At present, dental graduates in India have knowledge of only one organ i.e. mouth and they are not allowed to prescribe medicine even for a headache or fever. “A bridge course to train BDS students into full-fledged doctors will always remain questionable,” experts said.

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