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NMC Task Force formed to find out reasons for suicide in medical students

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To find out the reasons for stress in medical students, the NMC’s Anti-Ragging Committee has formed a Task Force aimed at supporting students dealing with depression and suicidal tendencies. While the Task Force is a step in the right direction, a tight deadline to submit the report may not give sufficient time to the committee members to find out the details of reasons leading to distress among students.

The 15-member task force headed by Dr BM Suresh, professor, Department of Psychiatry, National Institute of Mental Health and Neuroscience (NIMHANs) includes Dr Yogendra Malik, Member, EMRB, NMC Member; Dr Nandini Desai, dean, Jamnagar Medical College, Jamnagar; and Dr Geeta Guin, dean, Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose Medical College, Jabalpur among others. 

“The committee tried to explore the cause of suicidal deaths among students in the recent past. We have tried to study the causes, and circumstances to formulate remedial measures. We felt that there is a need for a study to analyse why students are driven to take the extreme step. The task force team will travel to various colleges where suicides have been reported and submit its report by May 31, 2024.  Once the report is submitted, we will follow its recommendation,” Dr Yogender Malik, member, Ethics and Medical Registration Board, NMC told the Banodoctor.

Medical associations such as FAIMA  and FORDA have welcomed the NMC’s decision to set up the Task Force. “The committee members will talk to college authorities, students and parents regarding depression and suicides. The task force will offer an email ID to help the students and mail them their concerns and complaints. The task force aims to identify the toxic environment in a college, based on students’ complaints,” says Dr Rishiraj Sinha, national general secretary, FAIMA.

Several reasons including long duty hours, lack of personal time, delayed salaries and stipends and skewed patient-doctor ratio are a few of the key trigger points. Mental stability of doctors is a must for a strong healthcare structure, said Dr Sinha.

Dr Aviral Mathur, President- FORDA, underscores the significance of proactive measures by NMC in addressing the persistent challenges faced by medical students. Measures such as yoga programmes and paid leaves are only on paper and not implemented in medical colleges. “While the establishment of the Task Force signifies a step forward, its nomenclature suggests a retrospective approach. To truly effect change, the Task Force must act pre-emptively by identifying toxic conditions within colleges and recommending measures to mitigate them before they escalate. Furthermore, the Task Force must ensure that stress-reduction initiatives proposed by the NMC are effectively implemented, particularly, in colleges located in remote rural areas. Strong surveillance in these colleges will help assess the challenges to find sustainable solutions. An NMC helpline where students can call and report harassment will boost students’ confidence,” he says.

Long duty hours, difficult course work and humiliating ragging often result in depression and a sense of isolation. “Some PG students develop hypochondriasis when they treat cancer patients or patients with terminal diseases. PG students face financial issues due to high tuition fees in private medical colleges and often feel homesick, which could also cause depression. Students who stay in hostels get bullied by their seniors despite the ban on ragging, which can further aggravate depression. If the Task Force can understand reality and formulate certain rules and regulations, it will help medical students,” says Dr Sanjay Teotia, Chief Medical Superintendent, Balarampur Hospital, Lucknow.

Dr Vivek Pandey, an RTI activist, highlights several longstanding issues within the medical education system. “Despite the existence of several committees over the years, their efficacy is questionable, especially considering the vast number of medical colleges and seats across the country. With over one lakh seats and 500 medical colleges, comprehensive monitoring becomes challenging. The recently formed Task Force faces a tight deadline to submit its report by May, potentially limiting its ability to thoroughly investigate the root causes of various problems,” he says.

Dr Pandey filed two RTIs last year and received data on student suicide from the NMC. His efforts through RTIs have shed some light on the situation, revealing information on suicides, dropouts, and college distribution. “The stressors faced by PG students, including long working hours, academic pressure, inadequate infrastructure, and toxic work culture, contribute to the alarming rates of suicides. Additionally, despite being banned, ragging is a significant factor in suicides among undergraduate students,” says Pandey.

Bullying, or ragging, is a grave issue in many medical colleges, which leaves a scar one’s mind and serious psychological issues. “The toxic working environment created by unfriendly teachers and professors, who insult the integrity of young doctors should also be recognised as bullying and ragging. It's important for teachers to mind their behaviour and respect the dignity of the students. Just because previous generations of teachers experienced such behaviour does not justify its continuation,” says Dr Somashekhar SP, chairman - Medical Advisory Board, Aster DM Healthcare - GCC & India.

Engagement with all stakeholders, including student bodies and faculty associations, is crucial for the Task Force to gain a comprehensive understanding of the situation.

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