Netrakona Medical College was launched in 2019 with 50 students. However, even after four and a half years since its establishment, the college has not yet secured a permanent campus location. The absence of dedicated academic buildings and laboratories is another pressing issue.
Educational activities are currently being conducted within some rooms at the Netrakona Modern Sadar Hospital. Despite the challenges posed by inadequate accommodation and classrooms, the students have adapted and continued their studies.
Nonetheless, a growing source of frustration among the students stems from the shortage of clinical classes and subject-specific teachers. Currently in their fourth phase of education, these students are set to become intern doctors within a year.
However, the lack of opportunities for practical education in specialised medical fields such as cardiology, ear, nose, and throat (ENT), as well as orthopedic surgery, has become a significant concern. The lack in clinical classes poses a considerable challenge.
Persons associated with medical education express concern that unless the ongoing teacher shortage is promptly addressed, the five-year educational program may culminate with significant gaps in knowledge across various subjects.
Rafiqul Islam, an Assistant Professor in the ortho-surgery department, pointed out that a substantial 80 per cent of medical education consists of practical classes. It is imperative that students are provided with the opportunity to engage in clinical classes under the guidance of skilled doctors in dedicated hospital wards, or the deficiency in their education will persist.
Location of campus not fixed yet
According to information from college sources, Netrakona Medical College was inaugurated by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina in October 2018 through a video conference. The college is affiliated with a 500-bed hospital and a nursing college.
Presently, certain quarters of the Sadar Hospital are being utilised as a temporary campus. Despite annual student admissions since its establishment, the college has encountered persistent challenges in identifying a suitable site for its permanent campus, academic structures, and student accommodations.
The proposal for acquiring land and developing the necessary infrastructure for the new medical college's permanent campus has been submitted to the ministry. Regrettably, this proposal has not yet received the required approval.
Netrakona Medical College Principal Shyamal Kumar Pal informed Prothom Alo that the Public Works Department had formulated a Development Project Proposal (DPP) and submitted it to the Directorate General (DG) office of Health for the purpose of establishing infrastructure, including determining the location of the college's permanent campus. However, this proposal did not receive approval.
A site was chosen for the Medical College in the Mauje Bali area of Sadar upazila, and subsequent survey and design work were conducted. Despite these efforts, the proposal did not advance beyond submission to the ministry. Netrakona Deputy Commissioner Shahed Parvez stated that the permanent campus of the medical college will be decided upon soon.
Subject-specific teacher shortage
Teachers, students and officials of the college said that currently there are 232 students in five batches in the college. Of them 65 per cent are female students. On the contrary, there are 44 teachers. The only professor is serving as principal. There are six associate professors, 16 assistant professors, rest all lecturers.
Although there is one teacher for every five students in the teacher-student ratio, there is a shortage of teachers in some departments including ENT, radiology, surgery. Classes are conducted in these departments with one or two teachers.
Three assistant professors of the college have expressed concern that if the current crisis persists, it will inevitably lead to academic setbacks for the students. For instance, when a department has only one teacher, that individual is burdened with managing multiple batches of theory classes, clinical sessions, administering assessments, and attending to hospital patients. Consequently, as the teachers bear this additional workload, the students experience deprivation across various aspects of their education.
No practical classes
Both teachers and students have voiced concern about the challenges students face once admitted to the medical college. In the first phase, which spans one and a half years, students study anatomy, physiology, biochemistry and such subjects.
The second phase, lasting a year, involves the study of community medicine and forensic medicine. Pharmacology, pathology, and microbiology are the focus of the third phase, spanning another year. In the fourth and final phase, students study clinical subjects for one and a half years.
Throughout this period, practical classes in various fields such as medicine, cardiology, paediatrics, thoracic surgery, ortho-surgery, ENT, ophthalmology, anaesthesia, and obstetrics are meant to be conducted under the supervision of qualified doctors within the hospital. However, the 100-bed modern Sadar Hospital is currently lacking the requisite number of doctors and patients.
Additionally, the hospital's inadequate facilities, including the absence of a fully equipped operating room, ICU, CCU, and NICU, contribute to an inadequate number of patients. Consequently, the education of these students is significantly disrupted, particularly with regard to their clinical classes.
Some students who are studying in the fourth phase, on condition of anonymity, told Prothom Alo that 10 months of classes have been completed already and they will have to sit for final exam after eight months. But they hardly attended any clinical class yet.
Hospital supervisor Abu Saeed Md Mahbubur Rahman revealed that there are currently 25 doctors functioning out of the total 44 positions. Some positions, including those for ophthalmology, dermatology, venereology, as well as dental practitioners, remain vacant.
Admitting the prevailing crisis, principal Shyamal Kumar Pal told Prothom Alo that these challenges are being continually communicated to the higher authorities. Despite these issues, the pass rate has consistently remained at 100 percent each year. Due to the limited availability of dedicated space, the college authorities have renovated some unused small quarters within the Sadar Hospital. This has led to accommodation being provided for only 166 students, leaving 66 others to find housing off-campus.
A second-year student said, "There's really no proper study environment here yet, and we're lacking facilities altogether. Despite this, we're committed to our studies. We don't have many options, and transferring isn't a viable solution right now."