The federal government has cancelled the national licensing test that medical graduates had to take in order to legally practice in Pakistan, claimed social media users and media reports.
The claim is true.
“The federal government has abolished the mandatory licensing exam for medical graduates,” wrote a Twitter account on February 12. “Now every student will automatically receive a license upon graduation.”
The tweet had been viewed over 17,000 times, at the time of writing.
A press release issued by the government-run Pakistan Medical and Dental Council (PM&DC) on February 10 confirmed that medical graduates are no longer required to sit for the National Licensing Examination (NLE).
“As promised by the Federal Health Minister Abdul Qadir Patel, the PM&DC has started issuing permanent registration certificates from February 8 to doctors, who graduated from Pakistan medical and dental colleges, without the requirement of the National Licensing Examination,” the statement read.
The PM&DC adds that this was a long-standing demand of the medical community.
The press release, however, stated that students who have completed their undergraduate degrees from foreign universities will still have to sit for the National Registration Examination.
Hina Shaukat, the chief public relations officer at the PM&DC, told Geo Fact Check over the phone, that this was already the practice [prior to 2020].
“They [the students] were selected and checked through a proper procedure before they were registered. They did not have to sit for the NLE exams then,” she explained, “As they had come from colleges that are already recognised.”
Then in September 2020, the PM&DC was replaced by the Pakistan Medical Commission (PMC) by the then Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) government through an act of the parliament. Under the new law, the exam was made mandatory for Pakistani medical students to obtain a license.
“Students were protesting against the NLE test,” Shaukat said, “Because students were saying that we already have to sit through a number of comprehensive tests like the Medical & Dental College Admission Test (MDCAT) before graduating.”
Why was the NLE introduced?
Dr Faisal Sultan, who was the special assistant to the prime minister on health in 2020, defended the decision to roll out the NLE.
“In a country with well over 100 medical colleges in half a dozen provinces/territories, it is crucial that new graduates are able to demonstrate a uniform level of capability and skill,” he wrote on WhatsApp, in response to Geo Fact Check.
“This can be accomplished by a uniform national licensing exam which is done in a reliable and reproducible way,” he went on, “Not only does this provide confidence in the individual that is about to be given a license is a safe doctor, but is also a very sensitive method to judge the academic standards of the colleges.”
The doctor further explained that the exam was taken at the end of five years to, in a way, inspect the educational standards of medical colleges.
“There have often been colleges with a great variety and range of quality between them,” Sultan added, “The consumer deserves to be given a reassurance of a minimum level of competence.”
Sultan also said that even advanced countries, with good universities, like the United Kingdom or United States of America often require a national or single exam for licensing.