Today we met the second batch of PAHS medical students, 60 bright, shining (mostly female) faces. This the is the result of all the hard work by Dean Rajesh Gongal and his admissions-selection team that was being carried out on the day of my arrival to PAHS 6 weeks ago. Since then interview scores were tallied, total points for rural status and other minority markers were accrued, and the list of names of the successful candidates was published in the National newspaper.
Then began an extraordinary process. Each potential student was invited to visit PAHS (along with their parents), and personally meet the Dean. The point of this meeting was to make sure that the students (and their parents) understood fully the unique mission of this medical school. It was explained carefully that their medical training will be centered around social accountability, and that they will engage in bi-yearly rural postings throughout their 6 year program. Further, they were told that they will spend 6 months at a rural district health post in their 5th year of study, and depending on their level of scholarship support, they will spend anywhere from 2 to 4 years of service as doctors in a rural setting after completion of their MBBS degree. In the end 100% of those that were offered positions, accepted.
As I saw them in the lecture theatre, all shiny and new to the program I saw a mixture of emotions reflected in their faces. I saw eagerness and enthusiasm, quiet reflection and in some faces there was uncertainty, not for the path they have chosen, rather the uncertainty that comes from being thrust into a new and unfamiliar environment. Kathmandu remember, may well be the largest city some of the rural students have been exposed to. Some have spent most of their lives in remote villages where the only access is by path (not Pathfinder). For these students there will be many adjustments ahead, being away from family, living in a student hostel, and making new friends. The class however, also includes students that have grown up in Kathmandu and they will have their own adjustments to make. I couldn’t help but imagine how the urban students will look a week into their first 2-week rural posting, where they are allowed to bring only the clothes they are wearing, a tooth brush, a pen and a journal. All the students lodge with individual host families in a remote village where distractions, beyond your thoughts, are few. For the urban students these postings may be their first trip outside of the Kathmandu City ring road and their first glimpse of the rural poverty crippling their country.
One year from now I will return to teach this new class and while the first blush of excitement may be gone from their faces, I hope the burning desire to learn, coupled with the growing commitment to serve the poor of their country will have taken it’s place.