Social conscience can be taught
Medical graduates in India avail of subsidized education and in return are expected to serve a year in rural India. However they can escape this clause by pay a lakh of rupees.
Unfortunately, a majority of them do escape, according to a recent report. Surprising to read that even students who get free education (not just subsidized) due to their “reserved” status also prefer to duck the rural posting. And sadly, so do students who are from rural areas themselves.
However I am not here to bash the medical students, because one can always apply this you-must-give-back-to- the-country argument to all those who finish their higher education in India in government educational institutes, all of which are subsidized. Some people say that medicine is a noble profession and that doctors have a duty to society and so on and so forth and then there is the fact that India’s rural health infrastructure is in shambles although progress is being made.
I don’t think that medical graduates are some other breed though. They are a part and parcel of our society and will have the same ambitions and goals that everyone else has. I don’t expect med grads to behave any differently from engineers or managers or pilots or designers.
In any case, I have never believed that compulsion or force of any kind is a good solution to anything. If a person, even from the rural hinterlands, hates the idea of working in his own area, the problem lies deep, and we need to get at the roots of it to find a solution.
An article by SP Kalantri discusses this thorny issue of medical ethics. He writes:
Will compulsory rural service work? Can it work in isolation from the general trends in medical education and practice? Can we force ethical practice by edict, or do we also need changes at the level of health policy to promote ethical behavior? Can individual policy decisions work without a larger qualitative change?
He raises important questions. One cannot see med grads as people outside the society, and we cannot expect them to behave differently from the societal ethos of the day. Today, society lays tremendous emphasis on professional success which is measured by money and the prestige that comes from either private practice or being attached to reputed hospitals.
And then there is the comfort of life in cities and more. When it comes to education for one’s children, again it’s the city which offers the best.
As Kalantri says, rural service requires “personal sacrifice” and if medical students aren’t willing, we need to look into ourselves and wonder if we would have been willing. Would an IIM grad or an IIT grad spend a year in rural India? And consider that medical students get into medical school after years of backbreaking work and then spend long years studying.
I am not saying that this excuses anyone from social responsibility. In fact I strongly believe that each and every citizen of India needs to have this social awareness and willingness to do something. But these qualities cannot flower overnight.
Social service and voluntary work needs to be part of our educational system. It needs to be inculcated at school level, in every single student. It needs to be compulsory for all students, right from primary level. Today social service is not compulsory in our school system. At college level some courses make it mandatory, but most don’t. There is the NSS ofcourse, and if you put in 120 hours here you can get 10 extra marks. But again, NSS is not mandatory. A student can finish his higher education without doing an iota of service to the society and often may not even be aware of the tremendous problems India is facing. I think this is just sad. Our educationists keep talking of changing the curriculum to reduce the load on our kids, but I think they should increase their moral debt a wee bit.
(Photographs are by me and copyrighted)
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