By Nathara Abeywickrema  Professorial units are widely acknowledged as being crucial to undergraduate and graduate medical education, but students at the University of Moratuwa’s faculty of medicine are encountering numerous challenges in the absence of such a unit and suitable learning environment. The faculty needs to meet certain basic criteria to deliver a sound academic [...]


Moratuwa medical students yearn for tooled up specialist training unit


By Nathara Abeywickrema 

Professorial units are widely acknowledged as being crucial to undergraduate and graduate medical education, but students at the University of Moratuwa’s faculty of medicine are encountering numerous challenges in the absence of such a unit and suitable learning environment.

The faculty needs to meet certain basic criteria to deliver a sound academic programme and proper clinical training.

The faculty was established in 2020 with three staff in an effort to meet the increasing demand of medical professionals as well as to develop advanced technology and research in medicine and biomedical sciences.

It has already enrolled four batches of students adding up to a total of 407. The first batch is 104 students and they should start their final year of professorial clinical training in January, 2025. In addition, on completion of their final year, they have to sit the final MBBS examination common to all local medical faculties in early 2026.

Professorial teaching units should be established by May or June 2024 before the first batch of students begin the final year professorial clinical training in January, 2025, said Professor Ranil Fernando, dean of the faculty of medicine of the University of Moratuwa.

Failure to meet these timelines, could hinder medical students from taking their final MBBS examination and the common examination for the students of all the medical faculties of the same year and could delay the start of internships of all the medical graduates, impacting health services delivery of the country, Prof. Fernando stressed.

The professorial teaching facility is not just a ward but is intended to provide comprehensive medical training for final year students, ultimately equipping them to function as a competent healthcare provider who will work as a house officer in a clinical care set-up after graduation. Such a teaching unit will need to have facilities for a strenuous teaching programme lasting a year.

Due to multiple constraints including the economic crisis, inoperative financing, and logistics in addition to limited time, it is impossible to create new units. Initiatives have not been taken.

The University of Colombo medical students are required to share the lab facilities for physiology with Moratuwa medical students. Besides, Moratuwa medical students are compelled to visit the Kotelawala Defense University (KDU) for anatomy practicals, and mandated to share the lab space with the faculty of engineering for biochemistry classes in Moratuwa.

Facilities play a significant role in the academic performance of students. Despite the hospital staff’s best efforts in assisting the pupils, Kalutara District General Hospital does not have the resources. At the moment, 200 students are using facilities meant for 20, Prof. Fernando said.

He said it is the only faculty that uses contemporary medical technology and has maintained academic standards despite challenges.

On Wednesday, the building for pre-clinical departments was opened, bringing an end to the three-and-a-half years when the faculty operated without a facility.

The issue at Moratuwa highlights the urgency for a national policy and plan for medical education. The entire process needs to be reevaluated, Prof. Fernando noted.

Prof. Ranil Fernando. Pic by Priyanka Samaraweera

In support of the nation’s medical education system, president of Medical Faculty Students’ Union (MFSU) of the University of Moratuwa, Kavindu Jayasekara said that although they have been voicing concerns to the Government, since the start of the past year, they have not yet received a satisfactory answer.

In addition, the union claims there is a severe shortage of lecturers.

Such problems are among the many that the nation faces when it comes to medical education. Mr Jayasekera, said, noting that it appears there are no fixes for issues such as the lack of instructors.

In this context, media secretary of the Government Medical Officers’ Union (GMOA) Dr. Chamil Wijesinghe said the medical education system is at breaking point owing to financial constraints and human resources challenges.

“The primary focus for the Government should be on human resource acquisition, which includes hiring professors, lecturers, and senior lecturers,” Dr. Wijesinghe noted.

The GMOA works to preserve medical education standards. In addition, UGC bears the duty of devising a short-, mid-, and long-term strategy to avert issues that might arise eventually, is where the union stands.

Tuesday (April 2) is set aside for talks with the University of Moratuwa medical faculty officials to investigate the options available to the GMOA.

Following the situation of the Sabaragamuwa University’s medical students who are now facing a threat in terms of accreditation of their medical degrees, Dr. Wijesinghe urged the Ministry of Health to quickly provide a solution.

A teaching hospital must be set up. For the faculty’s students to receive accreditation, decent professorial units and adequate hospital staff must be provided. It may take up to six months to make the facility operational, said Mr Jayasekera.

He further drew attention to the fact that medical graduates cannot seek postgraduate degrees or go overseas for further education without accreditation from the World Federation of Medical Education (WFME).

All of the efforts would be useless if graduates are not accredited, thus the students are pleading with the Government to secure medical education throughout the nation and to set up professorial units at all state medical faculties.

The Government, however, which has grand aspirations to establish private medical schools, should prioritise addressing the challenges of state universities.

Next year is expected to mark the beginning of the final year professorial programme for the medical faculty’s fourth year students. So far, there are no plans for those professorial divisions.

Meanwhile, the students are asking the Government to fill both academic and non-academic positions that are vacant. Additionally, they have faith that the Government will investigate any hindrances to the proposed building and speed up the process.

The medical students and academic staff of the faculty of medicine of the University of Moratuwa are hoping that professorial teaching units will be set up based on minimum standards prescribed by the University Grants Commission (UGC) and that WFME requirements of the accrediting body of the Sri Lanka Medical Council (SLMC) will be met.

These will include fully equipped, dedicated university teaching units, a library with physical and online access for a minimum of 100 students, dedicated lecture halls with audio and visual facilities of 200 capacity, in-ward student study rooms, clinical skills laboratories for a minimum of 40 students and equipped with simulation-based training facilities, medical technology laboratory for 40 students and equipped with training facilities, study and discussion areas for minimum of 100 students, spaces for clinical exams/OSCE for minimum of 40 students, recreation facilities for 100 students, student cafeteria for a minimum of 100 at a given time, and student restrooms separately built within the same premises for at least 30 students with one locker for each student.

These are the basic minimum facilities needed for professional teaching programmes of the final year medical students.

In addition to those facilities, laboratory, radiology, out-patient department, accident and emergency, and critical care facilities are essential for clinical training.

After settling existing financing and legal issues, the grant of the SAITM building and the Dr. Neville Fernando Teaching Hospital in Malabe to the faculty of medicine at Moratuwa remains as a holistic approach, and regardless of their standing, actions should be taken against any party who obstructs the process, the student union believes. The cabinet paper has been approved, but certain Ministry of Health parties are reportedly delaying the process.

The SLMC reiterated that all academic activities of medical faculties, including instruction in professorial units, must comply with basic criteria, and if not, accreditation-related issues would arise.

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