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In UP, MBBS Students and Their Parents Face Tough Choice: Beat COVID or Give Exams

MBBS students in the state have been made to sit for offline exams – even as the rest of the state, and the country, scrambles to deal with the third wave of India’s COVID-19 epidemic.

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Worried for my daughter who is studying MBBS in UP college! Students have been testing COVID positive. Even though students are made to sit for the offline exams. Request to university on behalf of every parent to postpone the exams. Think about MBBS students’ mental health also”.

This is what the parent of an MBBS student tweeted on January 9.

“Two of my batchmates, Nimit and Risabh are covid +ve but they are forced to live in isolation while doing this they have to study for exams,” another BDS student wrote on January 10. “Both of them are being tensed and depressed to manage both studies and isolation. They are saying that it’s a mental trauma”.

2022 dawned with young doctors protesting in the national capital and other cities, demanding that the government not delay the state of academic counselling for students who had qualified the NEET-PG exam. They have been followed by pleas by MBBS students in Uttar Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Punjab.

MBBS students in the medical colleges of Uttar Pradesh have been made to sit for offline exams – even as the rest of the state, and the country, scrambles to deal with the third wave of India’s COVID-19 epidemic. Many of them feel they are trapped between choosing their career and evading the novel coronavirus.

The exam at various universities was supposed to be held in February, and that’s what students were preparing for. However, the medical colleges of Punjab, Chhattisgarh and Uttar Pradesh subsequently decided to advance their exams to January, catching their students by surprise.

The Wire interviewed many of them, who said their respective colleges had advanced the dates and with no prior notice or circular, and also expressed that the exams would be conducted offline.

This sudden decision is at odds with the decisions of universities in other states, including Maharashtra, Haryana, Karnataka and Delhi to postpone their MBBS in view of the rising number of COVID cases.

Also Read: Why Young, Overworked Doctors Are Protesting Outside the Union Health Ministry

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First-year student Harshit Sharma hails from Jammu and Kashmir and studies at Shri Venkateshwara University in Gajraula, Uttar Pradesh. “If there’s a lockdown and I leave for home, I will anyway not be able to give the exams,” he told The Wire. “More than half of the students are asymptomatic; in this situation, if we are compelled to give exams, we would all be putting our lives at stake.”

He also said “many students” in his batch have symptomatic infections. “Our exams have been scheduled from 12th January.”

When the students’ union tried speaking to the university’s management about their issues, he said the latter didn’t respond. “We even pleaded [for them] to wait” until the students who had symptomatic infections could recover, “but we were still not heard,” he added.

According to him, the university management has been “insisting that they won’t do anything” unless the National Medical Commission releases new guidelines. But Sharma wasn’t convinced: “Their replies are absolutely flawed and vague,” he said. “The universities are autonomous and are capable of taking decisions by themselves when it comes to matters like these.”

Earlier, on January 10, the students of CCS University, Meerut, had received an assurance from the Resident Doctors’ Association of Uttar Pradesh that the latter had received a call from the dean of medical faculty saying the university had postponed MBBS exams for all seven affiliated medical colleges until further orders. The university posted its official notice the next day.

“Most universities have been postponing their exams [due to] the rise in cases,” said Sana Khan, a student at a different university. “Our university on the contrary has [advanced] our exams without much prior notice. They were supposed to begin from February 7 but now have been rescheduled to begin from the 25th of this month.”

According to her, the college where she studies is still functional, and the associated hospital continues to admit COVID-19 patients for treatment. There are also students on campus who have tested positive, yet, Khan added, the administration hasn’t heeded the students’ demands.

“Most of the students are scared to even get themselves tested. If they are found positive, they will be quarantined,” and whether they will be able to give their exams will become doubtful.

“Nobody has been listening to us. Nobody from the college administration takes our calls. We [have only been] able to reach out to the exam controller, who has not been helpful at all,” Khan added. “Our parents are really tense: they are calling us back home, but the college has left us in a dilemma.”

Representative image. Students sanitize their hands outside an examination centre before appearing for the National Eligibility Cum Entrance Test (NEET) in Ranchi, on September 13, 2020. Photo: PTI

‘Not just about COVID’

“While the country stays home [due to] the third wave, we MBBS students might have to travel to a different city altogether to give our exams,” Aishwarya Sharma, a second-year MBBS student, told The Wire.

“We have no information about whether we will be provided with proper sanitation, if the students’ temperature will be checked, and if basic COVID protocols will be followed,” she added. “We have no information on whether the students who test positive will even be allowed to [give] the exams.”

“We are really depressed with the state that the college has left us in,” according to one MBBS student named Shreya. “We have all been studying rigorously, and it is not the exams that we fear. While the whole world is taking … steps considering the surge in COVID cases, why can’t our college do the same? Don’t our lives matter?”

Exacerbating the sense of crisis among students is the fact that many of them will have to travel to exam centres in remote areas, like Unnao, The Wire found. The students, especially women students, don’t know if they can expect to find hygienic as well as safe living arrangements in these places.

“The people in Raipur made it to the news very recently, when the city was found to be among the most negligent in terms of following COVID norms, be it social distancing or wearing masks,” said a Raipur-based MBBS student named Janshu.

“I come from Gorakhpur. My family is really worried about me,” he continued. “I have not even been able to tell my parents about the whole issue. … They will call me back irrespective of whether I give the exams.” 

He was cynical about receiving government help. “We don’t have any expectations from the government: they have already [neglected] the situation in the entire state; why would they even bother helping us out?” he asked.

Another student, who didn’t wish to be identified, said, “We are ready to give the exams at any cost – we just need some time until the situation comes under control.”

But with no relief in sight, all these students have been becoming angrier and more anxious. Twitter is replete with tweets like those quoted above.

Another group of students, from Bihar and Andhra Pradesh, face a different kind of uncertainty: these states are still to decide whether to postpone their universities’ exams.

Shivanshu Sinha, a first-year student at a medical college in Delhi, is back in Patna, his native place. “I will have to make arrangements for my trip to Delhi if the exams … happen,” he told The Wire. “Until now, we [haven’t been given] any notice as to whether the university will be conducting the exams in the prevailing conditions.”

His parents, he said, have been insisting that he shouldn’t travel to Delhi at this time, that he should skip the exams and just give the supplementary ones six months later. “However, being a first year MBBS student, I can’t afford to do so,” Sinha said. “If the college does not postpone, I will have to go.”

He isn’t alone in this situation. “There are at least 15 students just from Bihar who are stuck, and in total, of the total 170 students in our batch, at least 50-60 are outstation students,” he said. “Even our exam centre is 30 km away from our hostel. How does the college expect us to put ourselves at risk for more than a week?”

Samriddhi Sakunia is a journalist with the HW News Network. She writes on health, education, hate crimes and human rights.