Striking Fruitful Partnerships for Medical Education

Striking Fruitful Partnerships for Medical Education

It has become painfully obvious that resources to augment infrastructure and capacity in the medical education sector have become scarcer then ever. With priorities shifting to building centres of excellence within existing institutions, the question of building feeder units again becomes a source of worry.

It is in this context that the medical education sector has picked up with the core-engineering sectors have long nurtured – public private partnerships – to share the burden of providing a quality education. Inter institutional, inter-continental and inter-sectoral partnerships are being inked with a great ferocity in the medical sector over the last three years or so, spawning a whole set of new projects all targeting employability and capacity building.

“Our disease burden is huge,” V.K.Subburaj, principal secretary, Health, says. “We cannot hope to produce the number of medicare professionals the country needs with the existing capacity. Even in sectors such as community medicine, forensics, radiology and anatomy, there is a shortage of training staff. It will continue like this unless we take some drastic measures,” he adds.

The MCI itself is relaxing norms for setting up medical schools in the country, he points out. Using telemedicine to link universities with medical, nursing and paramedical colleges is an option that will be explored meanwhile. Inter-institutional partnerships will be set up to beam lectures across the state, even country. While these need not necessarily be strictly in the public-private realm, they will certainly establish teaching and training relationships between a large number of institutions for the first time, he explains.

Mayilvahanan Natarajan, Vice Chancellor, Tamil Nadu Dr. MGR Medical Varsity agrees. He says the process has already been kickstarted. “The government/university is open to the idea of public private partnerships. In fact we are excited by the possibilities that this can open out.” Industry- medical school partnerships such as the one that facilitated setting up the bio skills lab at the Orthopaedic department of the Madras Medical College are also on their way in he says. “We are looking at a scenario where the whole state can be networked, either through tele-systems or otherwise, and this will enforce uniform quality standard in the medical education sector,” Dr. Natarajan adds.

S.P.Thyagarajan, Pro Chancellor (Research), Sri Ramanchandra University (SRU), who has also served as Vice Chancellor, Madras University, says the medical sector has been a tad slower than the engineering sector in harnessing the benefits of collaborations across sectors, but the trend has started. “There are inherent strengths in the public sector, as in the private sector. We must synergise these strengths and create a system that would be able to provide the best quality medical education to everyone who makes it to a medical or nursing college,” he says.

Pointing to the Planning Commission models for PPP in higher education drawn up in 2009 at the instance of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Prof. Thyagarajan says the Basic Infrastructure Model and the Outsourcing Model have found much support. While the former involves the private sector investing in infrastructure and the government running operations; the latter suggests that private players should invest and run the operations, being compensated by the government for doing so.

Some of the sectors that are of interest to the government, industry and foreign universities in the lifesciences sector are clinical trials, research and development in pharmacology clinical trials, environmental health monitoring, and validation of traditional systems of medicine.

With government of India institutions such at the Departments of Biotechnology, Science and Technology, Indian Council of Medical Research, Defence Research and Development Organisation, Pollution Control Boards showing interest in cementing relationships with educational institutions, and international varsities establishing linkages with their counterparts in India, the time has never been so perfect to establish collaborations.

However, as Stephen Shortell, Dean of the School of Public Health, says it takes six characteristics to establish an effective partnership. In India recently to sign a Memorandum of Understanding with the Department of Environmental Health, SRU, he outlines the following crucial components of every successful partnership: Shared goals and objectives, allied incentives, clear and consistent communication, setting in place evaluation and monitoring systems, and more importantly, wishing well for your partner even if you do not benefit.