Recently 9 new medical colleges have been cleared for the state. These will be in addition to the 26 government medical colleges with 3400 seats and will add 1350 seats for medical degrees. With the preference for a medical seat at the highest for most students, this increase should naturally be welcomed by both aspiring students and their parents. Denied admission, hundreds of students also pursue medical degrees in other countries like China, Malaysia and Russia (those who obtain degrees from foreign institutions face the problem of getting cleared for practising in India as most of the degrees are not readily recognised).
Liberal facilities extended for medical education in the state already place TN with a healthy doctor-population ratio. Against the WHO norm of one doctor for a 1000 population, Tamil Nadu already has the highest ratio of one doctor for 253 and against one doctor for 1800 people all India with the highest for Jharkhand at 8180. With the addition of 9 more colleges, this ratio will improve further. Handsome resources will be invested by the government on creating the infrastructure and also in offering education at highly subsidised fees.
With the limited and modest budget for the health sector, it will make for better sense to use the resources for improving the quality of healthcare in the government hospitals in the state.
There is a need for regular upgradation of medical equipment and provide for the high cost of servicing and maintaining these.
Several experts in the profession point to expensive equipment for diagnosis and treatment remaining idle in government hospitals.
With the fee structure in government medical colleges so low, there is also the case for making those graduating from these colleges to serve compulsorily, a term in rural areas.
There will also be issues of jobs and earnings. The experience of engineering education provides a striking example: for several decades post-independence, there was a huge demand for engineering education. With rapid privatisation, there was a rush of entrepreneurs to become entrepreneurs. TN witnessed politicians and shrewd business people seizing the opportunity to enter this field. Today, the state has over 600 engineering colleges. Sadly, however, many of these do not have the required infrastructure in terms of labs, libraries and qualified staff, resulting in a lack of students. Close to 200,000 seats are estimated to remain unfilled. There is also the problem of ill-equipped engineering graduates, several of whom are unemployable.
The mindless expansion of medical education also poses a similar danger of turning out in large numbers of medical graduates of indifferent quality and knowledge. There is a much greater risk as these would deal with human lives.
The cream of medical graduates would also migrate to greener pastures in other countries: just look at the large and increasing proportion of medical doctors in Britain and the USA, manned by doctors of Indian origin who were provided expensive education at a low cost. Canada, USA, UK and Australia have about 10-30 per cent doctors of Indian origin.
Policymakers of TN would do well to have a re-look on the manner of apportioning the health budget.