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The Harrowing Stories Of Indian Nursing Students

Many of these students have been studying the first year for over three years and have yet to write a single examination. Some others have been exploited at internships and have been denied stipends. Here is the grim story of some of India’s nursing students.

By Bhaswati Sengupta
New Update

publive-image Protesting nursing students (left) | Nursing students face lathi-charge in Madhya Pradesh (right) | Photo courtesy: Special arrangement

“I always wanted to be a nurse, and with much difficulty, I got admitted to the Maruti Institute of Nursing in Madhya Pradesh in 2021. It is 2023 now. So far, I have not written a single exam. I was supposed to be in the third year now, but I am still a first-year student,” lamented Praveen Dubey, a nursing student.

Praveen alleges that he has been diligently paying close to 1 to 1.5 lakh rupees fees to his college for three years now. Each time the college puts up an exam date, he says he immediately pays the additional exam fee. He claims he has already paid the fee thrice but has yet to sit for a single exam.

The Probe’s Bhaswati Sengupta speaks to Praveen Dubey, a nursing student from Maruti Institute Of Nursing, Madhya Pradesh. It’s been three years since Praveen started his nursing course, but he alleges that his college has not conducted a single examination, and he continues to be in his first year.

“Why are they collecting exam fees when they have no intention of conducting the exams? When I was admitted, I was just 20 years old; today, I am 23. I will soon turn 24. So far, I have not even written my first-year exams. It is a four-year course. So, will the medical university take 12 years to complete our course? There is no faculty in the college. There are no registered teachers to teach the BSc course. Our seniors teach us. There’s no Principal. My younger brother and sister have finished their engineering, and I feel so bad that I have not even given my first-year exams,” rues Praveen.

Praveen’s college Maruti Institute of Nursing, located at Itarsi in Madhya Pradesh, on its website states that the Bhopal Education Foundation runs it and is registered under section 25 of the Companies Act. The website also claims that they have been running seven nursing institutes in Chhattisgarh and the colleges are recognised by the Indian Nursing Council and Madhya Pradesh Nurses Registration Council under the government of Madhya Pradesh and the college in Itarsi is affiliated to the MP Medical Science University, Jabalpur. But not many answers have been forthcoming from the authorities on why they played a mute spectator while the college was collecting money from the students and fleecing them.

Sadly, this is not a lone case. Thousands of nursing students across the country have been facing similar problems. The Probe spoke to Shiv Singh Dangi, a nursing student at the Roshan Hospital College of Nursing in Bhopal. Shiv’s fate is not too different from Praveen’s.

A visibly upset Shiv told us, “For the last three years, I have been studying in this college, and I have not been able to give my exams. I was admitted into the college in 2020. This college is part of the Madhya Pradesh Medical Science University. Our college should have gotten its letter of affiliation from the University in 2020, but it did not. Despite that, they admitted students and started collecting fees from them”.

Shiv states that he had contemplated suicide once, “We have become a burden on our family. Our families are in distress. We are having too many financial problems. We have been protesting a lot, but our pleas are falling on deaf ears. Our careers are stuck. We can’t look for a job as we don’t have any relevant papers. Sometimes I feel like committing suicide. That’s the kind of stress I feel. Fifteen thousand nursing students are facing similar problems”.

Another student Rajesh studying in the same college told The Probe that he hails from a low-income family. His family can no longer bear the burden of his education. “I am a farmer’s son. I have not even given my first-year nursing exam for three and a half years. I don’t know why the college is dilly-dallying on the subject and the university is not helping the students either. The students are in a tight spot. My education has become a liability to my poor parents.”

Reports suggest that Shiv and Rajesh’s institute Roshan Hospital College of Nursing, did not get its papers through and ran into trouble with the Madhya Pradesh Medical Science University, Jabalpur. The university is the governing body for all the medical, dental, paramedical, ayurveda, homoeopathic, unani and yoga colleges in Madhya Pradesh and has approximately 300 colleges under it with a yearly intake of close to 80,000 students across the state.

Another student Poonam Sharma from the Mansarovar Nursing College in Bhopal, says that she, too, has been facing similar issues. Poonam says, “The Madhya Pradesh Medical Science University authorities have been telling us that the college is illegal as they are unable to get their credentials satisfactorily verified. The matter is with the court now, and because of this, everything is getting delayed. I would pin the blame on the university. We want to know what the university was doing during all these years. When we seek answers from the college, they pass the buck and ask us to go to the university”.

Students like Poonam had extended their services to the state during Covid-19, and they say they feel let down by the system. “We completely feel unheard. We had done Covid-19 duties as well. We are today struggling hard to pay our room rent. The college has been collecting fees from us even when they cannot make us write the exams. We have financial problems. We are mentally disturbed. The last time when we protested, they beat us up. They lathi-charged us. We have written to the Chief Minister but have not received any replies so far.”

Another nursing student, Aakanksha Malviya from the SR College of Nursing in Gwalior states that several students in her college had not given their exams for the last three years and therefore continue to remain in the first year. She adds that many students are emotionally vulnerable today, and some are in a suicidal state.

“It’s a four-year course. I have come to this city from a village. I hail from a poor family. I have to pay the room rent here. For the last three years, I have been in the first year. My father is a farmer. He took a loan to get me educated. My family is in a complete state of shock. Now they are telling me to come back. They are not allowing me to complete my education as we lack the financial means. Many students are in a suicidal state,” says Aakanksha.

But this is more than just a problem limited to Madhya Pradesh alone. The Probe spoke to Komal, a Florence Nightingale Training College of Nursing student in GTB Hospital in Delhi. Komal says nursing students face many issues while training in hospitals. “There are not many clear guidelines and policies regarding nursing internships or training. We don’t get trained properly in hospitals. They feel it is okay for us to know less. They say you are just getting trained, so there is no need to get into the details.”

Anjali Gulia, another student from the same institute, states that students often don’t get their stipends. “We don’t have permanent teachers, and sometimes we have one teacher who comes and teaches a concept and then suddenly another teacher comes for the same subject. There is no continuity in education. We have been attending classes, and we have also been doing our nursing duties, but we have not been getting our stipends. The government is not doing anything about it”.

The Covid-19 pandemic exposed the unpreparedness of the medical healthcare practitioners in the country to handle health emergencies. Many nursing colleges in the country have been in the limelight for duping students. Many of them are notorious for lacking facilities as they are run by cronies of politicians and people with questionable antecedents.

Indian Nursing Council, which is the national regulatory body for nurses and nursing education in the country, is still functioning under the outdated Nursing Council Act 1947. The Supreme Court in 2017 ruled that the Indian Nursing Council (INC) should not have the power to grant recognition to nursing colleges. Time and again, the INC has drawn flak for corrupt practices and for not coming to the aid of nursing students whom colleges have defrauded. The INC top officials were not available for a comment on the subject when approached by The Probe.

The All India Government Nursing Federation (AIGNF) has often written to the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare to improve the standard of nursing education in the country, including the setting up of learn and earn schemes in nursing education and enhancement of stipends for student nurses. During budget 2023, the government announced 157 new nursing colleges, but public health experts say that while new colleges are being opened, the government should ensure that the existing colleges are run as per government guidelines.

A study published in the Indian Journal of Psychiatric Nursing found that during the pandemic Indian nurses faced many mental health issues, including fear and anxiety, depression, fatigue and insomnia. Devendra Jain, General Secretary, Nurses Association of Govind Ballabh Pant Institute of Postgraduate Medical Education and Research (GIPMER), New Delhi, notes that nursing education definitely needs a complete revamp. However, once these students finish their education, their careers look very grim as nurses’ living and working conditions in the country are deplorable.

“They are overworked. They don’t follow the nursing guidelines. In the ICU, there must be a 1:1 ratio of ICU staff. In General Ward, it must be 1:3 or 1:6, but even this is not followed. There is a shortage of staff at every level. The nurses don’t get leaves, and they are unable to maintain a work-life balance. These nurses don’t get promotions. They work overtime. Last year, we saw that the nurses who worked for 30 years ended up getting promotions only once in their entire careers. The problem is that we lack policies and guidelines. Wherever there are guidelines, it is blatantly violated,” explains Devendra Jain.