The current conflict between Russia and Ukraine has left several Indian medical students stranded as Ukraine has closed its airspace and the students are unable to reach the international borders to safely return to India. Over 219 Indians were evacuated through Romania and several have found their way home since the first hint of the impending war loomed close to February15.
Even though government officials have been quoted in the media that over 2000 Indian students are back to India, there are conflicting numbers about the number of students who still need to be evacuated. Students who were studying in the eastern area of Ukraine that shares borders with Russia are finding it difficult to exit the country. Ukraine hosts close to 20,000 Indians, of which 18,000 are medical students, according to the country's Ministry of Education and Science. They form 20 per cent of the nearly 76,000 foreign students studying in the country.
In the midst of this conflict, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi while launching the post Budget Health Ministry session on February 27 urged private players to help the medical education system to increase the number of medical seats so that students do not have to leave the country to pursue medicine. "Today our children are going to smaller countries to study, especially for medical education. They go despite the language barrier. Millions of rupees are going out of the country. Can't our private sector enter this field in a big way? Can't our state governments make policies so that India can produce a maximum number of doctors?" Modi said.
BOOM spoke to students as well as recruiters who help students secure seats abroad to understand why students choose to study in Ukraine and Russia.
Lack of Seats
As of December 2021, India has over 596 medical colleges offering 88,120 MBBS seats. Only half of these are government colleges.
To be eligible for a seat in these medical colleges, students are expected to appear for the National Eligibility Entrance Test. In 2021, over 15 lakh students appeared for the NEET exams. As only 88,120 are selected to study across medical colleges, other students tend to foray into dentistry, physiotherapy, ayurveda, homeopathy, and even pharmacy. Those who still want to pursue medicine either prefer to drop a year or go abroad.
Zimran Fazili, currently pursuing his third year of general medicine at People's Friendship University of Russia, told BOOM that the chances of getting into a government medical college in his home state Kashmir is very minimal. "The open merit list in government medical colleges in Kashmir is only 35 per cent with severe competition."
Maithili Guhane, a 20-year-old medical student at Chernivtsi who managed to return safely to Mumbai from Ukraine on February 19 agrees. "The thing is MBBS seats are very less compared to the MBBS aspirants. Even after getting good marks, we don't get seats."
BOOM also spoke to Rahul who is from Edu Pedia Overseas that helps students move abroad to pursue their dreams for studying medicine. "There are just not enough colleges to meet the needs of the students who want to study
While government medical colleges are affordable for the aspirants, the private colleges have skyrocketing fees. Rahul, the education consultant compared the cost of education between India and the two countries. "In India, if a student does not get enrolled at a government college, private colleges charge anything between 75 lakhs- 1 crore for a duration of six years. For the same duration in Ukraine, students have to spend close to 24-26 lakhs that includes their staying and mess costs. This difference makes it financially viable for them."
Both Fazili and Guhane echoed the same sentiment. "The first reason why anyone would choose to leave the comfort of home and study in a country that has a different language and culture is financial. The cost of studying medicine for most people is humungous!" Fazili told BOOM.
The Ukrainian universities along with being affordable are also run by the government. To obtain a seat, the students have to appear for NEET and pass the examination. A higher score which determines seat allocation in India is not considered a benchmark in the foreign universities.
"Just clearing NEET gives us the opportunity to study in these colleges and also gives us exposure as we meet several other students from other countries," Guhane said.
BOOM also spoke to M Sai Krishna, pursuing his Masters in Surgery from Kiev, who has taken shelter at a metro station along with his roommates and classmates. While trying to find a way to reach the borders of the country, he told BOOM that he and his roommates rom India chose Ukraine to do their Masters because it was more affordable to study there than in India. "I pursued my bachelors from China while my roommates pursued their bachelors also in Ukraine. The facilities and professors here have been really helpful to us in learning medicine. We hope we can complete our education."
License To Practise
Another major advantage of a degree from Ukraine is that the medical degree is recognised not only by the Indian National Medical Commission but also by the World Health Organisation as well as several other European countries. The Ukrainian universities offer the course in English. Some Russian universities teach in Russian.
These students can also return to India, become interns, give the NEXT qualifying exam, earlier called the Foreign Medical Graduate Examination and practise as doctors within the country.
"About 80 per cent of the students want to return to practise in India and appear for the NEXT. They either then choose to study for their masters here or again go abroad depending on the nature of their exam score," Rahul from Edu Pedia told BOOM.
Maithili said that she wants to complete her two years of internship in India. "I plan to pursue medicine in Dubai and will give the DHA exam. But before that, I want to intern in India for two years as that will help me prepare better."
Zimran on the other hand wants to take it one step at a time given the current circumstances. "My current course is in Russian. On completion, I plan to return to India, give the NEXT and then figure out what to pursue next at that point of time."
Most of these students also appear for exams such as PLAB that helps them move to the UK, and USMLE that helps them study and practise in the US.
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