From hope to despair: The human cost of NEET PG postponements

The repeated postponements have created a profound and distressing impact on the lives of medical students across India.

BySumit Jha

Published Jun 24, 2024 | 12:43 PM Updated Jun 24, 2024 | 12:43 PM

NEET PG delayed

“I was about to sleep when I received hundreds of messages on Telegram. People were asking, ‘Is this true?’ I had no idea what they were talking about, so I opened the messages. Then I thought, ‘What is happening?’” said Dr Madhuri E, a NEET PG aspirant.

She added, “My father told me to shut off my phone and go to sleep since I had an exam the next day. But in the meantime, the Ministry of Health posted about it on Twitter, so I had to believe it.”

“My exam center was 16 kilometers from my house. My father said, ‘It’s still not on the website, so you can’t be sure. Anything can happen by morning. Just go to sleep and be mentally prepared for whatever happens. Even if they conduct the exam, you should be ready to write it.’ But it was all true. Initially, I started laughing, but then I thought, ‘What is happening?’ We were mentally exhausted from preparing. Competitive exams test your mental patience,” she said.

On the other hand Dr Lahari Ediga was doing revision to ensure she wouldn’t forget anything. “I was reviewing my 20th notebook, revising the things I had marked in my rough book for the PG examinations. I was studying and didn’t know the exam had been postponed, and I had put my phone aside, but then I got a call from my friend at 10:59 pm on Saturday night. Thought he was calling to wish me good luck and tell me I would do well in the exam,” Dr Lahari said.

“’Don’t panic, believe in your gut,’ he said. Then he asked, ‘Did you see the news?’” she said. “No, why would I watch the news? Tomorrow is my exam, and I need to be inside the hall by 8:30 am,” was her response.

“He then told me that the NEET-PG paper had been leaked, and people were getting the paper for ₹1.7 lakh. Around 14 to 15 students had been arrested,” she said,

“It seems the new PG board chairman was removed from his position, and someone else took over. As of now, the exam has been postponed. I thought he was joking at first, but then he shared more details. I asked, ‘Wait, when did all this happen?’ It was a critical moment. We had just eight hours to get to the exam center. How could this be happening now?” she asked her friend.

“The tweet from the official account came around 10-11 pm. They could have at least informed us in the morning,” she said.

Dr Lahari and Dr Madhuri are amongst the 2.5 lakh medicos who were supposed to take their NEET PG examinations on 23 June, but just hours before the exam, it was postponed.

The process

“Living the last day before the exam is a very strenuous and traumatising process. We were crying all day, not even sure why, but it was overwhelming. We kept telling ourselves that this would be the last day we’d be studying for this exam and that by 12:30 tomorrow, we’d be done, or at least by 8:30 we’d never have to touch our books again. Then, at 10:59 pm, the news flashed, and I thought, ‘What is happening?’ said Dr Lahari to South First.

“Now, we have to endure another day like this. The financial burden is also significant. Many hospitals and doctors want commitment, but we can’t fully commit to our work until this process is over. All the (study) apps we bought for preparation are expiring now, so we’ll have to buy them again,” she said.

Also Read: NEET row: Centre orders CBI probe, sets up high-level panel for exam reforms

The second bad experience

“I am from the 2017th batch, and due to COVID-19, our internship ended in August 2023. Initially, we were barred from taking the NEET PG examination last year because we were deemed ineligible by the NBE since our internship was delayed. However, this decision was later revoked, and we were given only a couple of days to prepare for the exam,” said Madhuri.

She added that last year her batch mates couldn’t properly prepare for the exam as they were informed only a couple of days before the exam that they were eligible. “We had no idea if we could even take it, so we just went in and did our best. It wasn’t a proper attempt for us,” she said.

For her, this year was supposed to be her proper attempt. “We started our preparation around June or July, even though our internship lasted until August. We managed by going to the hospital in the mornings and preparing for the NEET PG in the afternoons. It’s been almost a year, and we thought we’d be done by March. But then the exam got postponed. Initially, it was scheduled for March but then it was postponed to July and finally moved up to 23 June, and again postponed,” she said.

“The last week was such chaos. Everyone was saying we couldn’t take it anymore, especially with NEET-UG, UGC-NET, and CSIR-NET chaos all happening. We were 100 percent sure it wouldn’t be canceled again, but it happened. Now, we have no idea when the exam will be,” she added.

She also pointed out that even if students try to reach out, there’s no effective way to do so. There’s no helpline. “We mainly get help from coaching institutes,” she pointed out.

Lahari added that in 2016, she experienced similar chaos with the state exam of Telangana (EAMCET) and NEET happening twice. “We had to write four exams, and it was a nightmare. At least back then, we were informed in advance. Now, it’s different. We finish an exam only to find out it’s been leaked, and we have to go through the trauma again.”

Also Read: Congress’s nation-wide protest against NEET-UG and its four demands

Cost and prize

Lahari said that for authorities, postponing the exam is simple and easy, but it comes with significant costs and consequences.

“We’ve invested so many years and so much money in coaching and preparation, and we’ve already lost so much of our youth in this process. They treat us like a ball being tossed to a mad cat, and it’s unbearable,” said Dr Lahari.

She angrily said that if the authorities can’t manage their work properly, they should step down rather than waiting to be removed. It’s insulting and unfair to us. Competent people should be in these positions. “The competition is intense—I’ve seen seniors from 2015 still writing these exams. We’ve got people from multiple batches competing, making it even harder. The number of medical colleges with MBBS seats has increased significantly since 2018. This means there aren’t enough seats for everyone in PG courses, especially for clinical seats which are in high demand,” she said.

“Personally, I’m tired of this rat race. I don’t want to keep fighting for something that doesn’t reward me adequately. There’s news of PG students committing suicide due to senior harassment. The pressure is immense. We work long hours without proper recognition or pay, and this is why many doctors migrate abroad for better opportunities,” she said.

We advise our juniors to consider other branches unless they’re truly passionate and ready to invest 20 years in education. The glamour of being a doctor is gone, and it’s no longer worth the hype. About 2.5 lakh people are competing for around one lakh seats. The unnecessary hype is misleading and adds to the pressure.”

Also Read: Health Ministry postpones NEET-PG examination hours before test

The mental suffering

“A single night changed everything. It felt like when India got its independence at midnight, which was so good for us. But this time, they announced it just when everyone was about to sleep, which wasn’t good for us at all,” said Lahari.

She added that it wasn’t just a sleepless night; it felt like falling back to zero. We had to rethink everything. We’re not going to work again for who knows how many days or months, and we just have to sit and read again.

“If the exam had happened, we would have been relieved. It’s hard seeing people around you moving forward while you’re stuck. My younger brother and his friends are all working and moving ahead in life. They keep asking me what I’m doing, and I have to say I’m still preparing for my PG for the past 1.5 years because the exam keeps getting postponed. I don’t know how to explain it to people,” said Lahari.

She also added that she stopped going out. “I haven’t seen the sun for three weeks, constantly staying home to get this exam done and move on with my professional life. Patients ask when I’ll be back at the clinic, and I have to tell them the exam got postponed again.”

It’s not just the students who suffer, but also the teachers and families. Families have health issues, responsibilities, and their own stress. “I was surviving on Dolo 650 for a week because of stress headaches. My friend had severe pain from dehydration due to stress. Everything is on hold, and when the exam gets postponed, our entire life gets delayed,” she said.

“People don’t protest because they’re already stressed. My personal opinion is if the exam gets postponed again or the paper is leaked, I’ll look for other options like doing a diploma or going abroad. I just want to get this done. I advise others, that if you make a mistake, do it in a way that you can live with it. There’s a saying: ‘If you aim for an A, settle for a B.’ You have to be content with your life choices,” said Dr Lahari.

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