Written by Tarushi Mohan
Nishant*, a medical student, sat down with me to talk about his experience studying for the Membership of the Royal College of Surgeons (MRCS) examination. I had recruited him as part of a broader study Poocho was conducting on the challenges and needs of students undertaking test prep online. His interview stood out because he was the only student I had met who was being tutored by an Egyptian teacher.
- 28 years old
- Master’s degree resident doctor
- Lives alone in Delhi
Help came from a Facebook group
After completing his MBBS, Nishant got himself enrolled for his post-graduation to a medical school in Delhi. Somewhere along the way, he decided he wanted to get an international medical practitioner’s licence. “So when COVID struck, suddenly, I got a lot of time for myself. So initially, I was very directionless. I didn't know what to do. But then I composed myself. And then I thought that maybe I should pursue this because now that I have time,” he admitted to me. But time for a medical student is a rare commodity!
Nishant was shuttling between classes and his resident doctor duties so didn’t have the bandwidth to explore coaching classes to help him pursue his dream. Instead, for his first attempt, he decided to rely on self-studying. His biggest challenge was finding relevant research material on his own. “So they have outlined the syllabus, but the problem is, where do you read the syllabus? See, it is not possible to read from the standard books because they are very huge,” he said to me.
Owing to all his challenges around self-preparation, Nishant failed his first attempt. “I attempted this MRCS paper in January. And I fell short of 1.5% because that was my first attempt. So that means I couldn't qualify. So then I did realise that probably doing everything on my own wasn't up to the mark.” This was the trigger for him decided to enroll himself in an online test prep course. It was time to ask for help.
He started with a simple Google search for which teacher to go with and that’s how he came across a Facebook group for medical test prep. After speaking to his professors and going through online reviews, Nishant decided to zero down on Middle Eastern surgeons owing to their high ambition and knowledge. “So people from the Middle East, like to teach these courses, there are a lot of people who teach this. They advertise themselves a lot as well. And at those particular Facebook pages, so I would go through all their advertisements, I would look for the final results of the candidates, and then I finally decided to zero in on this particular person,” he explained to me. “This particular person” was a doctor/tutor based in Egypt.
From India to Egypt at Rs 20,000
Nishant first reached out to this tutor via his email id provided on the Facebook Group. Multiple conversations later, Nishant was convinced about joining his course. But the path to getting enrolled in an international course was choppy because it involved figuring out overseas payments for the first time. Yet Nishant believed the trouble was worth it. “He got in touch with his bank to learn about wire transfers and other aspects of making the payment. I contacted the bank. I contacted my teacher first and he told me that he will take such and such amount. He had already mentioned it was around 250 US dollars. After that, it was an uphill task to transfer the money because it's not easy to transfer that huge an amount without knowing someone in that country. So, I had to go through a lot while transferring the money. After I transferred it, he just added my number to his online platform.”
Once in, it was smooth sailing. The Egyptian tutor seemed to have a very organised way of conducting the course. He used a hybrid of live classes and pre-recorded lectures. For doubts, he encouraged students to contact him personally as well. Nishant admitted he felt extremely comfortable with the teacher’s methodology. “First, he sends questions or other study materials that we can read. In fact, there are three ways he does it. One is the questions, second is the study material. The third is the video lectures. So, he sends questions through Telegram, his study material, he has linked us to his Google Drive so, in his Google Drive, he has study materials which we can anytime look into. The third is the lectures in which he takes live classes for students.” These lectures were also recorded for students who could not attend them live, for any reasons.
His biggest challenge was understanding his tutor’s accent
When I asked him about the biggest challenge he faced with an Egyptian teacher, Nishant was quick to note some issues with language barriers - specifically the accent of his teacher. “So, in the initial 15 - 20 days, I won't understand most of the words except the technical terms. You call a leg a leg, you cannot call it a thigh, right, but how he would pronounce those words, I mean, it was very difficult but after 15 - 20 days, I started getting his accent. And now it has become easier after months.” It was quite interesting to see how open Nishant was to accepting and working around these challenges to accommodate his Egyptian teacher instead of looking for an Indian teacher.
This led to another challenge he faced which was the time zone difference. “See, what happens is that if he has to go for a live lecture, he will give a time, Egypt time. Suppose he gives Egypt 4 pm. Around India, it's 7 pm. So, what you do at that time, most of the time you cannot have control over that. Suppose if you have a case in your operation theatre, then you cannot leave your case and go and discuss, right?” Nishant was overcoming this challenge by going through recordings of these live classes. He asked any doubts he had via text or in follow-up live sessions that he could attend.
All in all, here was someone dealing with a host of logistical challenges just to attend one online medical test prep course. It seemed that online learning had manifested a new avatar of competitive learning - one that could be nurtured across state lines.
I concluded the interview with lots of admiration and a fair degree of curiosity about the state of affairs of medical test prep in India. Why did a resident medical student have to go through tons of Facebook groups to find a course that suits his needs? Is this information so obscure that a simple search doesn’t suffice? Relatedly, where are Indian medical test prep platforms falling short? How many Nishants are out there seeking help from non-Indian tutors to pursue their international medical dreams? If Unacademy, NEETprep or Vedantu don’t have the answers yet, perhaps there is another startup idea here that is yet to be explored?
*We anonymize names to protect the identities of our research participants