ISLAMABAD: The Pakistan Medical Commission (PMC) has yet to technically become functional, but its recent steps like stopping universities from taking Medical and Dental Colleges Admission Test (MDCAT) and suspending the National Examination Board (NEB) exam have left many in the health profession surprised.
Besides, the PMC, formerly called the Pakistan Medical and Dental Council (PMDC), has mentioned on its website that it will be fully functional within a week and all pending applications, including grant of full licences to MBBS graduates, will be processed from Oct 2.
The Pakistan Medical Association (PMA), a representative body of doctors, has wondered how the PMC had started taking decisions when its council members, who will run it, have still not been nominated.
The Pakistan Medical Commission Act 2020 was passed at a joint session of parliament on Sept 16 and later signed by President Dr Arif Alvi.
Recent decisions on NEB, MDCAT exam criticised
According to a copy of the Act, available with Dawn, the Pakistan Medical Commission will have three components — Medical and Dental Council (MDC), National Medical and Dental Academic Board (NMDAB) and National Medical Authority (NMA).
It states that under clause 18 of the PMC Act 2020, the MDCAT will be a mandatory requirement from 2021 onwards for all students seeking admission to medical or dental colleges in the country.
“The authority shall conduct MDCAT annually on a date approved by the council and as per standards approved by the board. No student shall be awarded a medical or dental degree in Pakistan who has not passed the MDCAT prior to obtaining admission to a medical or dental college in Pakistan, provided that such requirement shall be mandatory for all students who have been enrolled in medical or dental undergraduate programmes in the year 2021 and thereafter,” it states.
An official of the Ministry of National Health Services (NHS), requesting anonymity, said only public medical and dental colleges would be bound to give a minimum of 50 per cent MDCAT weightage for admissions, whereas private colleges had been exempted from this legal obligation. Under the clause, every private college has also been granted a freehand to formulate its own policy for admission, including any additional entrance test, the official said.
“Without the mandatory MDCAT, another mechanism is also provided to facilitate admission to private medical colleges in Pakistan. Under clause 21 of the PMC Act 2020, students enrolled outside Pakistan having completed more than two years of programme in medical or dental college, subject to qualifying relevant NEB, which is held for foreign qualified students, are allowed to seek transfer and admission to a medical or dental college in Pakistan.
“Such a student shall be qualified to obtain admission in the immediately subsequent year. It is not clarified whether such students will be admitted in over the above seats or against vacant seats available in a college,” he said.
In the past, the PMDC had allocated a number of seats to each medical and dental college, but in the new Act there is no mention of it.
“Another questionable development, as posted on the PMC website, is that national MDCAT will be conducted by the commission. The schedule of the examination will be announced by the commission immediately after Oct 2, whereas it is clearly mentioned in the Act’s clause 18 that the PMC will hold MDCAT from 2021,” the official added.
PMA Secretary General Dr Qaiser Sajjad told Dawn that he was surprised to hear how the PMC had started functioning without nomination of its council.
“Due to the decision to abolish centralised entry test policy, parents will have to spend tens of thousands of rupees to buy prospectus from a number of colleges and pay processing fees. I don’t know who has been taking decisions regarding the PMC. It is unfortunate that the medical fraternity has been suffering due to the commission, which is why all our sister organisations have demanded Prime Minister Imran Khan to restore the PMDC,” he added.
Dr Sajjad said colleges would be left on their own to teach students, and their competence would be checked after five years through a three-hour test. “In the past, provisional registration was carried out by the PMDC, but now it has been decided that it will be done after completion of MBBS. It will allow colleges to admit as many students as they want. I fear that in future Pakistan will have a huge number of glorified quacks as we are going to focus on quantity rather than quality,” he said.
When contacted, NHS ministry’s spokesperson Sajid Shah said the health secretary was taking all decisions relating to the PMC as an ex-officio member of the council.
“There are rumours that quality of doctors will suffer but I can assure you that the PMC has been established as per national and international requirements and the ministry will not compromise on quality of education. I am not aware but we will look into the issue of whether students will have to buy prospectus of more than one college and what will the processing fee be,” Mr Shah added.
Published in Dawn, September 28th, 2020