The Pakistan Medical Association requested the Supreme Court on Wednesday to revisit a decision that created an “open merit” system for medical college admissions. As a result of this policy, the country has been churning out far more female doctors than male doctors, but as 75% of the women abandon work after graduating, the healthcare system is suffering.
In 1991, the Supreme Court abolished the 60:40 ratio for male and female students in medical college admissions. “We had hailed the decision in 1991, but [in hindsight] it seems that it has backfired,” said Dr Mirza Ali Azhar at a press conference on Wednesday.
Today, there are not enough doctors to staff rural health centres and basic health units, which are small clinics that are supposed to fill the gap in the countryside where hospitals do not exist. Balochistan, Gilgit-Baltistan and other conflict zones in the country are also short of medical professionals.
The doctors took great pains to clarify that they were not against women attaining a medical education. They merely want for the human resource situation to be calibrated so that staff is deputed where needed instead of there being chronic shortages.
Dr Azhar added that when he started his medical education in 1973, there were 80 girls and more than a hundred boys in his class. “All the men are still working,” even though less boys were admitted than girls.
According to Dr Idrees Adhi, young men are not attracted to the medical profession anymore as women have traditionally outperformed them in academics.
They are also worried about financial uncertainty as government healthcare jobs do not have the safety net of salary and promotion rules. “When they graduate, they [feel that they] are far behind their colleagues who choose commerce or any other field,” he added.
It is no secret that male doctors were moving aboard for better job prospects. “The Middle East and other countries do not need to spend money to produce their own doctors,” said Dr Qazi Wasiq, “as they are getting them from our country.”
He also alleged that private medical colleges in Pakistan were only worried about making a profit instead of ensuring adequate healthcare delivery. “It has become a status symbol for parents to enroll their daughters at private medical colleges, as it makes it easier for them to find a future spouse,” he said. These young women graduate but are then reluctant to work in rural areas. They don’t even like doing night duty, remarked Dr Qaiser Sajjad.
Separate medical colleges for boys
The PMA demanded that the Supreme Court form a committee to work on recommendations to revise the policy.
They suggested that 10 medical colleges should be reserved for boys as there are six medical colleges that are exclusively reserved for girls. They asked the government to improve the service structure for doctors, so that more male students would choose the medical profession and also decide to work inside the country.
“It took us twenty years to see the results of the decision that was taken in 1991, and it will take at least half that time to turn it around to fix the problem. Therefore, the government should wake up right now to address the issue,” said Dr Mirza.
Published in The Express Tribune, August 23rd, 2012.