Dr Siddiqui has worked as Professor Sher-e-Kashmir Institute of Medical Sciences (SKIMS), as Centre Coordinator Advanced Center for Genetic Diseases, Chairman and Head Department of Immunology & Molecular Medicine at SKIMS, HoD Central Laboratory Medicine and Clinical Biochemistry at SKIMS Srinagar and has been part of many educational projects in India and abroad.
ZN: Does the scenario of Medical Education in J&K concern you?
MS: It has been making me concerned for decades. I have seen two types of teaching in medical schools here and in other parts of the world where I have worked: Japan and Germany. Methodology must be devised after studying the etiology of success and failures. It helps us understand what interventions we can make to turn a failure into a success story, to improve our systems.
ZN: What is a the impending need, the immediate step that needs to be taken?
MS: The lending agencies, be it World Bank, International Monetary Fund, Asian Development Bank, World Economic Forum and others have maintained that three pillars of human growth and sustainability of development are: Health Care, Education and Social Production. Social Production is meant to do handholding of the underprivileged. The interventions for addressing the needs of those lagging behind could be through Government or through Non-Government agencies. I am very lucky to have worked in healthcare, education and am also chairman of a charitable trust. I have closely seen how poor people have to align their budget in order to access healthcare. This needs to be addressed on priority. The masses need to have equal access to healthcare.
ZN: Is the head of an institution responsible for the quality lags?
MS: We need to create excellent leaders for our institutions. The National Education Policy 2020, has a strong chapter on professional education, including medical education. There are three ingredients to a successful institution:
1. The leader and his human resource: the faculty, the scientists, the technical staff, the management
2. Infrastructure of the institution
3. Vision of the institution
I did my post doctorate in Japan, under Dr Tomio Tada, one of the best known Immunologist in the world, who was nominated for Nobel Prize thrice. Working with him acquainted me with the affairs of the Universities and helped me understand how the leader of the Universities is selected.
The selection process involves a search committee and the President of the Unversity, equivalent of our Vice Chancellor. The shortlist of candidates in carried out based on the CV of the applicants. The shortlist is usually 4-5 candidates.
These candidates are supposed give lectures, before students, before faculty. The discussions and the performance in discussion about the policies lead up to the selection. The policies need to be designed and executed by the leaders, for education and for the community that these institutions operate in.
ZN: Is NEP 2020 cognizant of this responsibility of educational institutions?
MS: I strongly believe that the NEP 2020 could have taken the inputs from teachers working at the grassroots level. The policy talks about integration of Allopathic and traditional medicine. I have strong doubts about the integration of these two, even if the students of traditional system are ‘sensitised’ to Allopathic medicine in their years of study.
However, the good thing about NEP 2020 is that it lays a lot of emphasis on preventive medicine. In a country of a billion, preventive healthcare could be a game changer. The National Medical Commission (NMC) has also begun the integration of family medicine in the health system.
Healthy criticism is a positive step towards improvement of the system. The intention is to ensure that the next generation has an up-to-date methodology for their education.
ZN: Do we need a regulatory framework for medical colleges?
MS: We have 10 medical colleges in J&K now, against just two a few years ago. The National Board of Examinations will regulate the courses being imparted in district hospitals. The situation when there are different regulatory bodies for medical education is concerning and must, in the longer run be done away with. There must be only one regulatory authority for medical education, so that the same standards are applicable everywhere. The NMC is supposed to lay down mechanism for regulation of medical education at all levels. However, much is yet to be done.
At the grass root levels, when one does not have a chair to sit, a class room to give lecture or a laboratory to demonstrate to students, there is much to desire for. What kind of human resource are we creating?
ZN: How do you see information technology changing education, medical education especially?
MS: I am worried about Chat GPT and GPT 4. I am a very tech savvy personally. The Artificial Intelligence brings us to the question of ghost research. It will now be more available now. The other day I had a conversation with Maulana Jalaluddin Rumi on Chat GPT, which was also joined by Shams Tabrezi. Imagine the research where the researcher has not seen the patient, not been to the lab, and is still able to bring about the paper: it is possible and it makes me worried.
Reading has taken a back seat, students resort to apps now. It is prudent, as is being done in many parts of the world, that a leader, the teacher acknowledges the existence of technology, AI and their implementation into education and research. The prudence of the leader to allow, disallow, regulate and limit their use could be the game changer.
The fact that in the educational system the promotion or entry too would depend on the research papers and the fact that the research papers could be produced by Chat GPT, without having even the traces of plagiarism must make us all wake up.
ZN: Do you believe in decentralization of powers to educational institutes?
MS: I am a staunch a supporter of more powers to state medical boards. The regulatory system must be a federal framework. The NMC has 680 medical colleges and over 1 lakh students to regulate. The State Medical Boards have a smaller jusisdiction and can better perform as a regulator and a watch-dog of quality.
The NMC has been investing strongly in privatization of medical education, which may not augur well with the equity and quality of medical education in India.
The British Medical Journal, in of the papers it carried, criticized the ‘rush’ to address the lop-sided doctor-patient ratio in India. The article has opposed corporization, medicalization and centralization of medical education in India.
The governance of medical colleges, at the institutional level and at the higher levels will determine the future of medical education in India.