Islamabad - Hundreds of medical students who opted for top Chinese medical universities for better future prospects would not have thought that petty politicking of regulatory body of medical education in Pakistan would land them on streets on return.

An amendment in the Pakistan Medical and Dental Council (PMDC) Ordinance 1962 has left hundreds of students, who went to foreign universities, in the lurch forcing them to undergo an equivalency exam from which they were exempted initially by the Council. After the enactment of Pakistan Medical and Dental Council Amendment Act 2012, all medical students graduating from foreign universities are supposed to clear National Examination Board (NEB) to be allowed to practice in Pakistan.

The students maintain that as they were enrolled in different Chinese universities in 2009 before the passage of the Act so it did not apply on them. Besides, they were issued no-objection certificates with written assurance from the PMDC that they would be allowed to practice in Pakistan without undergoing NEB test as the Chinese universities where they were enrolled in were recognised by the regulator.  Nearly 500 students who went to China for MBBS in seven medical universities have been affected by this decision. Of them, 135 have passed out while the rest are still enrolled in these universities. About 1000 medical students who were sent to Cuba under a government scholarship scheme met the same fate.

But the PMDC maintains that “the Act came into force at once so the council has to implement it regardless of the fact that the students were enrolled in 2009.” Moreover, a team of PMDC had visited the Chinese universities and found them substandard, claimed Sara Rubab, legal officer of PMDC.

She said the Islamabad High Court gave the students interim relief in a case filed by one of these students but later decided in favour of PMDC with directions to the petitioner to appear in equivalency exam to get registered with the PMDC. “And, the Supreme Court also upheld the IHC decision. After that about 300 students took the NEB exam and a few of them also cleared it,” she added.

But the students believe that the cumbersome bureaucracy and politicking are not limited to PMDC only but prevalent in other offices too. “The court that was giving decisions in favour of the students suddenly started taking side with the PMDC,” alleged one of the young doctors, Tahir Naveed. He said Justice Athar Minallah was the lawyer of PMDC Registrar Dr Raja Amjad Mahmood and Dr Asim Hussain, member PMDC and former petroleum minister, before taking his oath as judge of the IHC so it was a case of conflict of interest, the students alleged. They demanded that Justice Minallah should recuse himself from hearing cases of PMDC.

On the other hand, talking to The Nation, Registrar PMDC Amjad Mahmood rebuffed the allegation that Athar Minallah was the PMDC lawyer. He said all the lawyers applied before executive committee for taking the case. “I have no power to take decision. It is the PMDC and executive committee which take decision.”

The students said that they approached federal ombudsman office but their case was disposed of on the first hearing in favour of PMDC.

The students say that they had opted expensive recognised medical universities so that they would not have to undergo NEB exam to get registered medical practitioner (RMP) certificate from PMDC. But the registrar is hell-bent to destroy the future of hundreds of students and made it a matter of an ego. “In face to face meetings he has threatened to go to every forum to stop our registration. When the ministry of law, justice and human rights in its opinion has calcified that the act does not apply on students, why the PMDC is adamant to go against it,” objected Dr Tahir.

Another student Dr Labib Shakir said, “Every forum we have knocked seems to be sceptical about the universities and our qualification. But these seven universities are reputable institutions and ranked among the top 100 Asian medical universities, according to Times Higher Education Asian Ranking 2014 whereas no Pakistani university managed to get any place in the top ranking. Even politicians and famous media names have gone for treatment in our university hospital.”

They appealed to the prime minister to order PMDC to issue registration to all those students who took admission before 13th August 2012 in foreign recognised universities as pledged by the PMDC.

“It is not a matter of 1500 students but of 1500 families. Our families have suffered because of this. They were waiting for us for the last seven years to come and practice but at the end it all comes out in a jumble,” they lamented.