The third round of registration for NEET PG-2023 started on Sunday, 24 September, after the Medical Counselling Committee (MCC) abolished the qualifying percentile, making it zero.
The decision has led to confusion, besides sparking debates on various social media platforms, and in the political sphere.
Some experts have been viewing it as a means for the less academically exceptional students to secure admission to private medical colleges.
Others defended the decision, asserting that it would help prevent medical college seats from lying vacant.
To understand the impact of the “zero” percentile for NEET-PG on the Indian medical community, South First conducted a debate on the topic.
In defence of zero percentile
United Doctors’ Front Association President Dr Lakshya Mittal, felt it was a significant victory and a boon to the medical fraternity.
“It is a positive step taken by the Health Ministry, and it’s a good move by the government. If we examine the data and records, thousands of non-clinical seats remain vacant. Even the government aims to fill these seats. For students who wish to pursue non-clinical branches like anatomy, it’s a great opportunity,” he told South First.
Dr Mittal, who specialises in MS surgery, emphasised the importance of non-clinical branches like anatomy and dismissed rumours that private medical colleges would receive bailouts and they would be involved in scams.
“There is no truth in these claims. It is a political agenda. NEET aspirants are facing distress due to the atmosphere created by the medical fraternity itself. New PG students are also voicing complaints, feeling that doctors are questioning their ability and competence, and subjecting them to a challenging environment,” he further said.
Dr Mittal noted that NEET-PG students have successfully completed 19 MBBS subjects.
However, he stressed that they have become eligible only for attending the counselling, with no guaranteed admission. He debunked the myth that students with negative marks would secure admission, affirming that everything would be determined by merit.
Dr Mittal also commended the government for simplifying the counselling process by introducing an online system, managed by the government itself.
Seat vacancy vs competence
Former General Secretary of the Telangana Junior Doctors’ Association, Dr Vanya Jasmine, said there were pros and cons to the decision to abolish the qualifying percentile. She concurred with most of the points mooted by Dr Mittal.
“The zero percentile will provide an opportunity for many students to pursue the PG course,” Dr Jasmine stated, adding that there were negative aspects as well.
She expressed concern that it would affect the quality of education. Before getting admitted, students undergo rigorous training, and this journey itself had prepared her for her PG. Preparing for the NEET-PG exam mentally prepared her for the residency programme.
“During the preparation, I was able to build myself up. Most management quota seats will be filled this way. It doesn’t primarily involve students from government colleges. The majority of the medical fraternity has apprehensions about the zero percentile,” Dr Jasmine remarked.
She further added the implementation of zero percentile would make a student who scored -40 marks eligible for admission. This would lead to a lack of competitiveness, as no other exam has such a low cut-off.
“Medical science is a discipline that places patients’ lives in your hands. In addition to qualifications, competence and perseverance are essential. Private students may not have exposure to the challenges faced in government colleges, and private medical college students may not exhibit as much perseverance as their counterparts in government institutions. Government hospital students are familiar with working efficiently with limited resources,” Dr Jasmine said.
‘Zero’ percentile for NEET-PG: Boon for students or private medical colleges?
Merit and quality
Dr Mittal recognised the hard work put in by those who won admission in government colleges.
He added that non-clinical doctors don’t have to work directly with patients. “Most students will enroll in the non-clinical branch. They don’t have to perform surgery. You cannot judge the competence of a doctor based solely on the NEET-PG exam,” he said.
“They have studied all 19 subjects, before taking the NEET-PG exam. You cannot question whether they are not good doctors or not if they have scored less. A three-and-a-half-hour exam cannot determine competence. Other doctors are jealous,” Dr Mittal said.
He mentioned that there was not a single drawback to the ‘zero’ percentile approach. “Peripheral hospital doctors, who don’t have much time to prepare, could at least choose non-clinical branches. These doctors, after completing their courses, would return to their communities and serve them,” he added.
Will peripheral hospital doctors go back to PHCs?
Dr Jasmine did not feel that service people working at peripheral hospitals would go back and serve the community again.
“PG is a criterion for getting a good salary but it doesn’t ensure that s/he will go back to PHCs as a doctor. I have seen this during my PG practice. When they take the PG examination, they are only hoping for a higher degree. I work with service people. None of the service people have given a definite answer that they will return to their community or PHCs,” she said.
Dr Mittal agreed that it was not mandatory for peripheral hospital doctors to go back after the PG course, “but for people who want to serve the community, it’s actually good for them. Even if 10 out of 100 go back to peripheries, it’s actually a good number and it will improve healthcare. Like all our fingers are different, similarly, people are also different,” he added.
Zero percentile kills competitiveness
Dr Jasmine felt that the zero percentile would kill competitiveness. “Zero percentile means -40 marks. No other competitive examination in India has such a low mark. Even if they become specialist doctors, they won’t be that competitive,” she opined.
“Ultimately, it will serve a certain section of the people. It will serve in the short run, but in the long run, it will ground the medical education. Indian doctors are in high demand as they have good quality of education. If the same system continues, the doctors will not be top-notch as of now,” Dr Jasmine said.