Dental education: Fighting for survival

‘The whole purpose of education is to turn mirrors into windows,’ said Sydney J Harris

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In India, there are lakhs of young minds yearning to transform their mirrors of imagination into windows of reality. Professional courses may not have lost their flavour completely with the current students, but some streams like dentistry are fighting for survival.

With numerous Bachelor of Dental Surgery seats invariably remaining vacant after counseling in Karnataka, as well as in other states across India, the situation is surely a cause for concern and reflects a disparity in the demand and supply for dental seats. The proponents are again brimming with confidence as they impose the new but old act, commonly agreed in retrospect that the old policies didn’t ‘serve their expressed goal’ and were based on ‘bad ideas.’ It surely can be argued that bad ideas flourish because they are in the interest of powerful groups. The DCI (regulatory body)-private college nexus was established years ago since the proliferation of the private stake holders. It exists rampantly across all states in India. The CBI arrests and raids in Tamil Nadu, makes one relook at the new wine in an old bottle. Many colleges are young and now are eligible to start and enhance PG; obviously a fresh market ensures better business prospects.

Compounding trouble, the majority of the ‘deemed’ aka ‘doomed’ universities have begun to mushroom in Karnataka as well, where admissions mostly is pure business! In a state like Karnataka, which boasts of having started the private college explosion, it’s about 49 institutions of which only 2 are government institutions. The dentist patient ration has fallen to an abysmal 1:2100. Until now what we had was a shortage of jobs, unmanned PHCs, young graduates working in BPOs and many unemployed undergraduates. Mixing the ‘ideal’ and the ‘real’ is seen throughout most of the events in the history of the profession, whether it is in relation to regulators, stake holders, or society.

Overcoming redundancy

The Dentist Act of 1948 was formulated almost 60 years ago. Is it strong enough or some clauses irreconcilable, archaic and redundant? An Act which needs a strong drill in order to be scrapped, a redundant body dissolved and a whole new generation of dynamic leaders created, who will ensure at least some of the following: A strict moratorium from the ministry of health and family welfare on establishing new dental colleges across India except in the North Eastern areas wherein oral health care is seriously lacking; closing down those Institutions which fail to meet the laid down standards and rehabilitating admitted students; automating complete regulatory framework and making function transparent and accountable wherein DCI becomes accountable to public. Apparently nepotism, occult and coterie prevail as most members are “nominated” and not elected.

Create enough job opportunities for the fresh graduates and post graduates across the country by ensuring a full house in PHCs, and adding more rural clinics, allowing greater tax subsidies and incentives to rural practitioners; ensure a single window entrance for both UG and PG programmes across the country making NEET a reality, the only way to monitor a fair system in place; devise uniform curriculum throughout country. Then only admission process becomes transparent and can foster accountability to ensure uniform standards of ethics and clinical practice. Ensure strict compliance for the corporate who have entered into the fray of clinical practice; the DCI must maintain a National Registry for Dental Surgeons to prevent malafide and fraud.

Consider legalization of part time teaching faculty; define its norms clearly, instead of the current method of encouraging visiting “ghost” teachers who sign false affidavits claiming they are full time teachers, mostly on hire just for DCI inspections; have strict complaint service rules with all benefits such as EPF and other benefits as deemed necessary for all faculty of private dental colleges.

The real golden age of dentistry in our country, lay in the pages of history. It is surely the silence of the good people that is going to kill the drill, more than the violence of a few bad people! Hope history will not repeat because we are not listening the first time! Or is this a fight to the finish?

(The writer is vice chairperson of women’s dental council of the IDA)

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