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Doctors or blue collar workers? Move to usurp fundamental rights of medical teachers

By Dr Amitav Banerjee, MD* 

Like all professions, the medical profession has its share of the good, the bad and the ugly. Of course, this is an extreme categorization and a more appropriate classification would be the brilliant, the average, and the deviant. The most dangerous would be the brilliant but deviant causing the greatest harm to humanity. Fortunately, they are a tiny minority.
The brilliant and the average in any profession do not need supervision. No amount of it will work against the deviant as they will always find a way to cut corners. 
For the dedicated doctor, medicine is more a calling than a profession, helicopter management.
The concept of "helicopter management" evolved from the metaphor of "helicopter parents" after the bestselling book by Dr Haim Giott, which mentions teenagers complaining that their parents hover over them like helicopters. Management styles supervising every move an employee makes implying that they cannot be trusted to work on their own qualify for this category.
Using micromanagement tools like the Aaadhaar Enabled Biometric Attendance System (AEBAS), to supervise a dedicated doctor or a medical teacher is insulting. Many bright ones leave the job, some the country.
This can be counterproductive negatively affecting doctor’s wellbeing and output. The "victims" tend to produce less and reduce their levels of creativity. When mutual trust is not the ethos of the work environment, there are more instances of burnout and low employee engagement.
Against this backdrop the recent ruling by the National Medical Commission (NMC), insisting on 75% attendance for doctors in teaching medical colleges, is highly damaging to the medical profession and speaks volumes about the competency of the NMC, or perhaps their motives. Even preceding this unrealistic ruling the NMC guidelines have been continuously usurping many fundamental rights of medical teachers. Taken in isolation, to the lay person, most of these measures would seem benign if not beneficial. But connecting the dots would reveal the mounting indignities the medical teachers are subjected on the pretext of quality medical education.
NMC dictated that all medical colleges should install AEBAS to be linked to the Command and Control center of NMC and the daily attendance of all faculties preferably with face recognition shall be made available to the NMC as well in the public domain in the website of the college. This linking of the biometric attendance with Aaadhaar is a violation of individual privacy and its legality has been challenged in the court from time to time. The NMC has covered this legal loophole by an “option” of clicking in a box making it appear as if the faculty is accepting voluntarily this breach of privacy. Without explaining the full implications of this breach this is not “informed consent” and is a “questionable practice” if not outright deceit.
The AEBAS becomes highly questionable against the background of instances of massive data breaches. The most recent one, leaked personal information of over 81 crores Indians from the Aaadhaar portal on the dark web.
Having achieved this, the NMC tightened the screws further. It laid down unrealistic standards for attendance which if adhered to will deprive many medical teachers of their vacation, leave, rest, recreation and leave of absence for other contingencies. They may even have to plan their reproductive cycles so as to avail of maternity leave with adjustments for maintaining 75% attendance! Each hour and each minute is monitored by the AEBAS system. For instance the AEBAS dashboard displays the proportion punching before 9 am and those after 9 am, the hours they clocked each day, how many hours is the shortfall and so on.
Medical teacher has to burn the midnight candle – to prepare for the classes next day. They are knowledge workers
It is a sight so see medical teachers frantically rushing to the AEBAS machine and queuing up so as not miss the deadline of punching in time. These are the sincere ones. The deviants are least affected. They just come twice a day – first before 9 am to punch and then past 5 pm for the second punch. They are free birds in between, while the sincere struggle to improve their timings like Olympian sportspersons! Ridiculous! One does not know whether to laugh or cry!
The private medical colleges are maintaining the silence of the lambs, for reasons well known. They are the soft targets of the bureaucratic red tape granting or cutting down medical seats. It was left to the Tamil Nadu Government Doctors Association to bell the cat. In a letter addressed to the NMC it has requested for withdrawal of the mandatory percentage of attendance fixed for medical teachers as this deprives them of their legitimate leave rights.
Let us hope good sense prevails and the NMC refrains from framing unrealistic rules and regulations in future in keeping with the ethos of the medical profession. Doctors are the most highly skilled and learned professionals. Treating them worse than blue collar manual workers is undignified and ridiculous. Doctors attend emergencies at odd hours and are back next day for duty. A medical teacher has to burn the midnight candle – to prepare for the classes next day. They are knowledge workers. Those in the surgical disciplines are both knowledge and manual workers who have to work on a complex engine without having the luxury of stopping it during repair.
Doctors and medical teachers have to keep abreast broadening their horizons to keep pace with rapid advances. They have to attend conferences and workshops and share their wisdom and knowledge through guest lecturers to mentor the young in their profession. All these have come to a halt as they cannot leave the premises of their institutions lest their attendance falls short.
Is the NMC trying to breed captive frogs in a well? Or would it like to develop doctors for the 21st century, propelling forth in their calling full of vibrancy, vitality and mutual trust. Unless the NMC does a course correction the former appears more likely.
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*Renowned epidemiologist, currently professor at a Medical College in Pune. Having served as an epidemiologist in the armed forces for over two decades, he recently ranked in Stanford University’s list of the world’s top 2% scientists. He has penned the book, “Covid-19 Pandemic: A Third Eye” and has delivered keynote addresses in national and international forums

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