The Solution to India’s Dangerous Doctor Shortage

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By Dr. G. Richard Olds

INDIA is facing a severe physician shortage. The country needs roughly 600,000 more to meet the World Health Organization’s recommended ratio of doctors to patients.

As the population grows, India will need as many as 2 million more doctors by 2030, according to a study in the Indian Journal of Public Health.

India’s domestic medical schools can’t supply those doctors alone. They don’t have the capacity to educate that many people. Each year, Indian medical schools turn away thousands of qualified applicants.

International medical schools can provide the doctors India needs. For decades, these institutions have produced skilled physicians who are more than capable of addressing India’s healthcare needs.

India is short on doctors of all types, particularly specialists. The country only has 20 percent of the surgeons and gynaecologists it needs. More than three-quarters of the country’s community health centers lack a single OB/GYN.

This dearth of doctors harms Indians’ health. A 2018 study published in The Lancet, a medical journal, found that “insufficient healthcare access” has worsened the burden of non-communicable diseases like cancer, heart disease, and diabetes in India. More than one in five Indians suffers from one or more chronic diseases.

Plenty of Indians want to become doctors. This year, almost 1.6 million students registered for the NEET exam, the standardized test required to gain admission to domestic medical schools.

But many who perform well on the test and have the potential to become top-notch doctors don’t receive a single acceptance letter from an Indian medical school. The Christian Medical College in Vellore offered a spot to just 0.25 percent of applicants in 2015. The All India Institute of Medical Sciences in New Delhi receives upwards of 90,000 applicants but only has space for 72 students. That’s an admission rate of 0.08 percent.

Altogether, Indian medical schools have space for just 5 percent of the students who take the NEET exam.

By comparison, the acceptance rate at Harvard Medical School — one of the most selective schools in the United States — is 3.3 percent. Less than 6 percent of applicants gain admission to Yale’s medical school.

International medical schools can help promising Indian students who would like to become doctors achieve their dreams — and eventually fill gaps in India’s physician workforce.

Graduates of international medical schools practice in a range of specialties worldwide, from paediatrics and surgery to obstetrics and gynaecology.

Few medical schools are as international as the one I lead, St George’s University on the Caribbean island of Grenada. Our students come from nearly 100 countries, including India. Now students from India can start their medical education at Ramaiah University in Bengaluru. After one year in India, they move on to our campus in the Caribbean for two years of instruction before completing their clinical work in the United Kingdom, United States, or Grenada.

Additionally, St. George’s allows students to earn a doctor of medicine degree, a more prestigious alternative to the “MBBS” undergraduate degrees offered at Indian institutions.

The coronavirus pandemic has laid bare just how severe India’s doctor shortage is. International medical schools can supply the physicians the country needs to narrow that shortage — and provide a pathway to professional success for talented Indians.


Richard Olds, M.D., is president of St. George’s University (www.sgu.edu)

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