Twelve years is a long time. It’s almost as much as a minimum life sentence a convict must serve if found guilty by the law. But consider this: that’s at least how long it takes for a school pass out to become a qualified doctor if he gets through all hurdles in the first attempt. That’s the better part of your teens and all of your twenties. By the time qualified doctors enter the professional field, they are usually into their early thirties, grappling with several issues other than just their studies and career.
Give it a moment and think about it from a humane point of view. Someone who studied at least 12 long years day and night after they did 12 years of schooling to accomplish their passion. Even during this period, several sacrifices were made, a lot of expenditure incurred and several others challenges faced to be able to reach this end of the bridge. And the beauty of it all, this is where life starts all over again for the doctor, as a professional. They are usually married or past their ideal marriage age as per social norms, overworked, underpaid, with meagre savings, no future security, may already be a parent, have ageing parents and family members to tend to.
At the same time, I understand the dire state of healthcare in several parts of the country, the need for qualified personnel to be available at the time of need. Many suffer great morbidity for the lack of health services in underdeveloped and remote areas. In fact, unless one lives in a metro or a proper city or town he is usually the recipient of substandard and often inaccurate and untimely care.
But I question the policymakers on this. How is this then, the fault of the doctor or the healthcare provider? Given an option, who goes and sets up his life in a remote place? I’ve never heard of a bureaucrat, or a lawyer, or an engineer or any other professional opting to or being asked to serve compulsorily in a rural set up for a period of time.
Consider this, a rural area needs each of the above-mentioned disciplines along with healthcare to grow holistically. Then how is it that a particular field is singled out for compulsory service. Isn’t that encroachment of free will? Isn’t it literally asking subjugation in the name of law?
Democracy is supposed to empower people to choose who they want amongst themselves to lead. Governance is as much a skill and art as any artist. It requires great skill, experience, tact, vision and a blend of softness and bullheadedness. Unless the people who lead the nation today realize that the real problem lies with the lack of infrastructure, these quick fix band-aid solutions will not save the sinking ship. There has to be better facilities for doctors and their families who are expected to serve in rural India. They need to provide for their kids and families too like everyone else. The roads, the electricity, their safety and the general quality of life have to be looked after. When a balanced life is provided, all professionals and not just healthcare will consider it a serious option.
This is not an overnight task and will take time to accomplish. Every healthcare professional understands that and is still ready to work with the given constraints. While the continued work to provide for these goes on, there are some things that can be looked into. For starters, by providing a better pay to those serving in rural areas, the option could be lucratively incentivized for those willing to make a compromise. Just like the noble soldiers serving at the borders ensuring our safety, some due respect in the form of certain provisions in civilian life could be granted. This could be in the form of tax exemptions, discounted travel options or even better pensions.
I still strongly feel that it’s a wrong move to impose compulsory service on anyone, especially for someone who has pledged his life to the public anyways. The progress has to be made hand in hand with mutual respect between the lawmakers and the professionals. Tasks and acts done under compulsion usually result in grossly substandard care, neglect and eventual decay of the very system put in place to stop it.
Let this be a choice, one which is very hard to refuse. As the famous line by Don Corleone in the Godfather goes –“I’ll make him an offer he can’t refuse.” That little extra is what everyone is striving for just like you and me.