Did you know our postgraduate (PG) doctors are made to wash cars and serve dinner, and often sleep for less than three hours a day? They are also allowed no weekly offs, forced to work in the outpatient department for 36 continuous hours twice a week, and often subjected to humiliation and harassment, with instances of guides even demanding sexual favours.
Recently, the National Medical Commission (NMC) sent out a circular to all the medical colleges in the country to prepare a list of student suicides in the last five years.
Along with this, the commission has also sought details of those medicos who have resigned, their working hours, and even weekly offs. The report is expected to be sent out by all states before October 7.
‘Made to wash cars of HoDs’
South First spoke to many medical students*, who vouched that out of 10 PG doctors, at least six would have been humiliated, mentally harassed, and even tortured to the extent of feeling suicidal or wanting to just quit.
A student from the Rajiv Gandhi University of Health Sciences in Karnataka told South First, “We are made to wash our HoD’s cars. It is a routine thing for us.”
The student added: “While girls sometimes are asked to serve dinners, boys are asked for favours like getting the cars of professors repaired, dropping them off and picking them up from personal parties, ordering food for them that never gets reimbursed, etc.”
‘Comments on dress, breast size’
Roopa Narasimha, a first-year PG student from Madras Medical College, told South First that she is humiliated by her guide every single day.
“The size of my breasts, the kind of dress I wear, my hairstyle and even the choice of my peer group are commented upon by my woman guide”, she said.
“Suicidal thoughts are just brushed off when reported. Nothing happens, the numbers will only increase in the coming days. It is high time the colleges take these issues seriously,” she added.
All is not well with our PG doctors
Hitha B Kiran, who finished her MBBS in September 2022 from the Kodagu Institute of Medical Sciences, Madikeri, recalled the horrors she and some of her seniors in the PG courses went through.
“The worst experiences I have seen are what PG students in my college underwent. If you take statistics from every government medical college in at least Karnataka, the majority of the students facing depression and going through harassment will be first-year PG students,” she told South First.
“I was once called a ‘flower pot’. I was told that I have no brains but can only be used for decoration. I was asked why I was wasting my parents’ money and told that I should instead get married and live my life cooking for my husband,” said Deepika Ranganath from a medical college in Ballari in Karnataka.
Harassment in ob-gyn department
Rahul Jain from the department of gynaecology of Karnataka Institute of Medical Sciences (KIMS) in Hubballi said that instances of humiliation occur mostly during case presentations in front of everyone.
“For instance, if a male student has a slight beard or stubble on his face, he is asked to shave it right there using the blade used on a female patient for preparation,” he said.
The most stressed are those from the obstetrics and gynaecology department, the PG students said. In general, the super-speciality areas are much more stressful and the harassment is more.
“While gender bias exists in any field, in medicine, it is more of a power play,” said Rakshith N from Telangana’s Nizam’s Institute of Medical Sciences.
“Women harassing female PG doctors and men harassing male students are common. It is like an open secret. There are consultants and HoDs who are known for the ‘extra points’ they give to pretty students and also for their predatory behaviour,” added Rakshith.
It is a ‘kabhi saas bhi kabhi bahu thi’ kind of attitude, Rakshi explained. “From our MBBS days, we are instructed about how we should respect our seniors and do what we are told. ‘If you want to survive this course then better behave’, ‘you can’t be a doctor if you can’t bear this much stress in life’, are some of the things said to us. So we enter the world of post-graduation with all this ‘gyan’ and experience of harassment too. Yet many of us end up depressed,” he added.
High on anti-depressants, marijuana
Meanwhile, many students told South First that the use of marijuana and anti-depressant pills is rampant in several medical colleges across the country.
“If anyone raids the hostels of medical colleges, finding marijuana is certain. There may be very few colleges where this may not be happening. But I would blame the kind of system we function in for the rampant usage of these kinds of drugs,” said Dhwani Raju from Hyderabad, who did not want the name of her college to be mentioned.
Meanwhile, citing the example of a first-year PG student from Karnataka’s Shivamogga Institute of Medical Sciences, Deepika Rao said, “A fellow student is married and has two children. He wanted to pursue a PG in obstetrics and gynaecology. He joined the department and is now on antidepressants thanks to the guide who makes him feel he’s inadequate and incompetent. He’s constantly fighting off thoughts of how he’s a failure.” The repeated trauma has pushed him into depression, she said.
Erratic work hours
While the Covid-19 pandemic situation is something that most of the PG and resident doctors have come to terms with, they said the erratic working hours have made several of them fall sick. Despite several complaints to department heads and even the deans of hospitals, they said they are never allowed to rest.
“We hardly get to sleep for about three to four hours in a day. Our day starts with a call from a nurse from the hospital at 4 am, when we would have got back from the hospital only around 11 or 12 in the night. This is not just one or two days a week,” Ravindran Nagaraj, a student from a government medical college in Chennai, said.
On the OPD days, which are usually two a week, these students are expected to work for almost 36 hours on the trot.
“We are at the mercy of our consultants. Our working hours are dependent on our consultant and co-PG students too. If my senior PG is courteous and understanding towards me, which rarely is the case, I can be allowed to probably sleep for one or two extra hours,” explained Hitha.
Ragging on campus has reduced
The students South First spoke to however said the incidents of ragging by senior students have come down drastically. They say that the management is extremely strict with the ragging rules.
It can be noted that recently two PG students belonging to the Kozhikode Government Medical College were suspended and also booked for allegedly ragging junior students.
“Cases of ragging depend on the college you are studying in. A majority of the colleges now have anti-ragging committees that are very strict with their rules and hence this situation is much better, at least in the southern states,” said Hitha.
Silent witnesses to harassment
As much as there is a stigma attached to seeking help, there is also a fear about their future if they bring up issues related to harassment with the professors or management.
“These individuals control our future and they can even ruin our careers. They can fail us by one mark. When someone decides to fight against this, the humiliation goes up and even our peers make us feel like an outcast,” explained Siddhi Vishwanath, a final-year PG student from SIMS.
The students also claim that there have been instances where the students are even asked for sexual favours by senior consultants or guides.
This, however, is done in a very discreet manner, said Aditi Bhaktu, a final-year PG student. “Students from poor backgrounds face the brunt usually. There are undue advances made towards them and this slowly turns into seeking sexual favours,” she said.
However, in some cases, students do come out in protest against harassment. For instance, an assistant professor of forensic studies at the Dharmapuri Government Medical College was shifted out after an entire batch of second-year medical students alleged harassment.
Not all HoDs are the same
However, the students also said that not every HoD or every guide is a predator or mean. They noted there are a few departments that are friendly towards all the MBBS and PG students and that some of the consultants even go out for team coffee or lunch breaks.
“There are some who are extremely motivating and even listen to us patiently when we crib about the pressure. They also provide us with tips on how to deal with the stressors,” said Sulochana Sarkar, a student of Madras Medical College.
Hitha of KIMS in Karnataka said psychiatry departments in many colleges are very helpful and that the majority of the doctors there are friendly and approachable.
Dr Manoj Sharma from SHUT clinic said some of the reasons why medical students go into depression or feel suicidal is “exam failure, especially among those who fail by a small margin like one mark, adjustment issues, lack of leisure time, absence of wellness centres or psychological support, or administration redressal of critical issues at the colleges. Other associated factors could be substance use and relationship issues, he added.
(* The names of all the students have been changed upon request)