The proposal to allow regular dentist to practice as general physicians has finally been accepted by the most important think tank of the government, the Niti Ayog. Seeing as the Niti Ayog is the top advisory body of the Central government, this is quite a bit of success for dentists all over the country.
Dentists can be allowed to practice as General Physicians as long as the dentist in question takes a short bridge course that runs for a maximum of three years. This has been accepted after a very long time in fact, after quite a lot of struggle… Let us see how it has all unfolded.
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Why is this proposal being forwarded in the first place?
There was a meeting held in the Prime Minister’s office in April, earlier this year. At this meeting, a recommendation was made to allow dentists to practice as general physicians. The ministers participating in this meeting were urged to consider the recommendation urgently.
The main reason cited for this unconventional method to be followed is to make up for the shortage of doctors in the country, especially the lack of doctors in rural areas. These recommendations and urges were put forward by the Dental Council of India, the DCI in short.
With the lack of doctors in rural place, it is difficult for the villagers to get treated. A scarcity in a certain thing always makes it more expensive, and the fees of doctors sometimes become unaffordable for the villagers these days. As a result of this, most villagers, even when under conditions of severe illness, do not visit the doctor.
Even when we keep aside the aspect of monetary problems to the villages, the other hardship faced is travel. Due to the scarcity of doctors, multiple villages are forced to share one hospital or doctor. The travel journey is sometimes too long, and illnesses that could be cured if dealt with on a timely basis, often prove fatal to the villagers on their journeys.
The ill-effects of this have been well portrayed to us thanks to the Media and Bollywood in the movie “Manju, the Mountain Man”. It is saddening that most of the knowledge about worldly affairs is given to us only through the film industries.
As evident, it will be very advantageous for dentists practising all over India to practice and earn the title of a General Physician for quite obvious reasons. It gives them a wider range of practice which helps in the monetary aspect of it as well as a wider scope of patients.
The Original Proposal to allow Dentists to practice as General Physicians and its Fate
In 2018, last year, the Dental Council of India (DCI) had forwarded a similar proposal to the Medical Council of India (MCI). This proposal included the following elements in it:
- The dentist in question would have to go through a three year long bridge course, after they had received a Bachelors in Dental Science (BDS) degree.
- The admission to this bridge course can be through three possible methods: a common entrance exam, by calculating the cumulative marks secured in the BDS course, or lastly, a combination of both.
- Whatever comprises of the syllabus curriculum, the scheme of examination, the method of evaluation, the degrees and the registration, it will all be decided and kept the same as the criteria required for the Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of Surgery (MBBS).
However, this proposal was almost immediately and quite vehemently denied by the Indian Medical Association, called the IMA in brief. The Indian Medical Association pulled out facts and statistics to oppose the proposal and almost completely shut it down.
According to the IMA, out of the 494 medical colleges that exist, there are more than 63,250 medical students graduating every year. Despite this enormous number, there are a very limited number of post-graduate seats in India, only 23,729 seats to be exact.
Due to the shortage of seats, an approximate of 39521 medical students every year do not get a post-graduate degree.
Unemployment among medical graduates is already a very important cause for concern. If a certain percentage of the post- graduation seats are now further reserved for students who have a BDS degree instead of the simple old MBBS degree, there are going to be even more medical students caught in the issue of unemployment.
Due to this reason, the Indian Medical Association termed the proposal of the Dental Council of India as flawed and rejected it outright. To quote Mr. Santanu Sen, the National President of the Indian Medical Association, on the matter, “Every year the unemployment amongst young medical graduates is a cause for great concern. The frustration of these youngsters with a decent undergraduate degree in medicine has to be addressed.”
Final Approving of the Proposal
Following the rejection of the proposal by the Indian Medical Association, the Dental Council of India then forwarded the same ahead to the Government’s office, where it went so far as to reach the Prime Minister’s office. The DCI was hell bent on having the proposal reach the Central Government, among other requests that they were harbouring.
Along with this proposal, the Dental Council of India also asked for a separate budget for oral health. According to Mr. Dibyendu Majumdar, the President of the DCI, more than 40 to 45 % of all cancers were caused due to oral cavities alone. Hence, importance must be given to oral health as to the other diseases and illnesses.
It had been decided earlier that dentists are allowed to give death certificates in the case that a patient dies in a dental hospital or clinic. Now, on the 9th of April, 2019, the Prime Minister’s Office gave a nod to the new proposal of allowing dentists to practice as general physicians too.
Bachelor in Dental Science graduates can now pursue and complete the three-year bridge course and then they can serve in the rural areas of the country for a maximum of four to five years.
Opinion on the Matter
In my personal opinion, I do not agree with the government on allowing dentists to practice as general physicians. The reason cited of the shortage of doctors in rural areas, does not seem to make sense when you consider the number of graduates from medical school every year, even if you don’t consider the number of students who don’t receive a post graduate degree.
Instead of allowing dentists to practice as general physicians in this manner, the government should create more seats in the post-graduate courses.
There is no shortage of doctors. Those unemployed should rather be given a job, instead of taking away the opportunity of further education from others. R.V. Asokan, the General Secretary of the Indian Medical Association, terms it as a “cruel exploitation of these hapless young graduates”.
The Government should give permanent postings to MBBS Graduates in the 150,000 wellness centres that are already there. This would help the health care of our country more.
To conclude, I do not think it is appropriate to allow dentists to practice as general physicians. Not only is it unfair to the medical graduates, it is also a little unfair to the patients. A dentist is not completely trained to have a doctor’s degree, despite the bridge course.
If you could be taught the same material in a three year course, why would anyone opt for the longer and harder route?
A doctor will never check a patient’s teeth and make a diagnosis. Why should he? He isn’t trained to do that. Similarly, why should a dentist be allowed to check the other aspects of a patient’s health when he is not trained to do so?
I believe the government should use its power to solve the problem using other methods, rather than qualifying dentists to be allowed to practice as a general physician.