It was never an easy journey for 29-year-old Dr Ramesh, born to daily wage workers Ganesan and Dayakudi in a remote village in Nagapattinam. Nothing was given to him on a silver platter. But his parents never stopped him from dreaming big, and after years of struggle, they were successful in making their son a doctor.
An anaesthetist by profession now, Ramesh was looking eagerly ahead to pursue his higher studies until the Centre made the announcement about the National Entrance cum Eligibility Test (NEET).
"The NEET puts us at a disadvantage. We have been doing services in government hospitals...the time schedule is very different from the doctors in private hospitals and it means we have lesser hours to study and hence our ranking will be very bad," said Ramesh.
Last year, Ramesh faced problems when the NEET exam for the PG course got postponed due to the demise of the then-Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa. The next date on which the exam was scheduled saw cyclone Vardah hitting the Tamil Nadu coast.
Dr Varaprasad, 32 said, "We are not opposed to NEET...let the exam go on for the private colleges and not for the Government colleges."
"Thankfully, my younger siblings did not choose this profession. We spend years doing service in government hospitals in remote locations where there is not even availability of proper food and water, and even sign a bond for two years, and all that we used to get in return was the extra mark for services in hill station," said Varaprasad, who's from a farming family.
The protests at the Madras Medical College - and later, near the collector's office - all reflected this common demand of the state's doctors. The Tamil Nadu state entrance exam ensures that 50% of the seats are reserved for doctors who served in government institutions. But with NEET, these reservations won't be available. Instead, candidates get 10 per cent insensitive marks for each year of service in remote or difficult areas.
"We have a federal system of governance and thus the Centre should not impose its rules on the state government. They want to conduct NEET...it is welcomed but we want the state entrance to go on and the seats reserved for Domicile to remain thus and that NEET should not be applicable in government colleges as we have a state entrance. Moreover, if the government in the Centre has not included JIPMER and AIMS, why is that? If they wanted a uniform system they should have included them as well. This is to discourage the doctors in the state who are doing an excellent job in government services," said Dr GR Ravindranath, General Secretary, Doctors' Association for Social Equality.
WHAT THE NEET BROCHURE SAYS
The NEET brochure says that out of a total of 100 marks, 90 will be proportionate to the score obtained by the candidate in the test, while the remaining 10 marks will be based on his or her service after finishing MBBS.
It states that one mark will be given for each year of experience, and one mark per year for service in rural areas. If a candidate has worked in hilly and remote areas then he or she will get two marks. Another two marks will be awarded to candidates with service experience in government hospitals in Thiruvarur, Nagapattinam and Ramanathapuram districts.
This decision by the central government will be a big blow for the common man. Why? Most doctors would opt out of these services as the incentives that they are entitled to are perceived as disproportionate to their efforts.
Most doctors at the protest site said a majority of seats are allotted to doctors in remote areas, and that very few seats will be given to those working in other rural Primary Health Centres.
That will be an injustice done to many of them, and all aspiring doctors will only aim to work in remote health centres, which means many rural areas will be affected because of a lack of proper health care, they said.
While the Centre and the dissatisfied doctors continue their tug-of-war, the ones affected are the helpless patients who will soon lose their patience.