Who Is ‘Deserving’ Enough to Be a Sri Lankan Medical Student?

When I was little I too wanted to be a doctor because in society we grow up thinking doctors, engineers, and lawyers are the only professions and best professions out there. They are in every right very elusive professions that involve great responsibility committed towards providing an immense services to one’s country.  Studying to become a doctor is very challenging because it involves five years of study and training. In Sri Lanka medicine is offered only in state universities and it is very competitive to get in to a state university medical school. It is widely believed that only the most deserving are accepted to study medicine.


Who are the ‘most deserving’ students?


Statistics point out that less than 4% of youth are enrolled in state universities due to the limited capacities of the state university education system. When it comes to medical students the numbers are far less. Whether all of these students deserve to be in the state university education system is a question that most wouldn’t dare to ask because it is generally believed that they are the most intelligent lot who will contribute in the future to the Sri Lankan ‘intelligentsia’.

There are so many students in the districts of Colombo, Kandy, Kurunegala, Matara, Galle, and Hambantota who get 3As or 2As 1B for local A/Ls and still do not get admitted to universities because they fall short of obtaining the required Z-score to enter medical studies which is generally 1.98 or higher for these districts. However, in districts like Polonnaruwa, Anuradhapura, and Nuwara Eliya there are students with 3Bs or a lesser result who get admitted to medical faculties because the Z-score requirement for such districts are lesser. Hence the question, ”Are they all deserving to be in state universities?”

It can be argued that urban and suburban districts have better teachers, better tuition classes. and better facilities than those districts with rural environments. Usually when I raise this question among state universities students they angrily remark that it is a great accomplishment to get into medical college even with 3Cs from a rural district because they did it with the very little resources they have. I will not dispute this.


Are they all of the same standard?


Once you are admitted in to medical schools the concept of ‘solidarity’ is very strictly applied since everyone follows the same course, and puts the same number of hours to studying and clinical training. There are people who may have come from Polonnaruwa who worked hard enough and passed out as consultants. Once upon a time the Ragama medical school – named then Colombo North Medical College – was a private one which was nationalized amidst much chaos, and at that time there were students who were admitted with lower results who have today become top players in the medical field.

Hence, couldn’t the same situation be applied to the private medical schools? There can be students with lower results for local A/Ls but with a good aptitude for medical studies. Most of those studying in SAITM have foreign A/L qualifications. Hence the debate is on are whether they suitable entry requirements. What should be imposed on every student before they enter medical school, be it local or foreign, is a standard entry requirement. This is the situation in countries like England, USA, and Australia where students are admitted based on their scores. In Australia, to enter medical school there is a standard band score and students are also interviewed to see if they have the relevant aptitude.

Medical professionals, especially the members of the GMOA, say that SAITM has to be closed down because they don’t adhere to a standard. What amounts to a standard however is not discussed. Is our medical profession in par with global standards? As far as medical consultation is concerned there are very few doctors specialized in endocrinology and orthopedics. One out of nine girls in Sri Lanka have scoliosis and the only doctor they could consult is an Indian because it is considered that the locals are not quite capable of performing such a serious 10 hour surgery.

The posters of protesters read ‘soldiers are not doctors’ in the case of Kothalawala Defense Academy. Others read ‘SAITM doctors will kill patients’. These are utterly ridiculous and based on fantastical hypothetical scenarios. It is time to impose a standard on both private and state universities on the quality of education and entry requirements based on scores achieved on a common test which the Medical Council must undertake. The Medical Council exams, the ERPM, before entering the profession in Sri Lanka must be continued for students who study outside the country. Hence arguments on ‘who’s more deserving’ can be addressed.

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