Mrinal Jha (name changed) from Bihar's Siwan went to China in 2012 to get an MBBS degree. A year later, his sister chose Poland for her medical studies, and two years later, their youngest sibling went to Georgia to pursue his dreams of becoming a doctor.
The trio had plans to run a hospital together in their hometown, instead they now run a consultancy for students aspiring to study MBBS abroad.
This was caused by failure to crack the Foreign Medical Graduate Exam (FMGE), a screening test mandatory to get a licence to practise as a doctor in India.
Every year, around 25,000 Indian students go abroad to study MBBS. However, only a small fraction of them are able to get a licence to practise in India.
In 2019, only 25.79 per cent Indians cleared FMGE. The figure was 14.68 per cent in 2020, 23.83 per cent in 2021, highest at 39 per cent in 2022 and 10.6 per cent in 2023.
While Mrinal and his siblings continue to sit for the exam conducted twice a year, they did have a plan B. They set up a consultancy in which the three siblings work with foreign universities they have studied in and help MBBS aspirants with the admission process using the familiarity with the place gained in over several years of their stay.
"I do not know when and if we will be able to clear the exam. Of course, the first priority was to become a doctor but having invested so many years we cannot be sitting at home.
"Foreign medical graduates who do not clear the exam choose different options like hospital management or other degrees but we chalked out a different path," Mrinal told PTI on condition of anonymity as he has signed a "non-disclosure agreement" with the National Board of Examinations (NBE) while applying for the FMGE.
The universities they work with pay them USD 500 to 700 per admission and the three siblings have secured over 1,000 admissions to different universities in China, Poland, Georgia and Uzbekistan in 2023 earning a whopping ₹4 crore.
"We would not have been able to make this kind of money if we were practising as doctors. Rather than practising as quacks in some village as we do not have the licence yet, we chose this way which is a legitimate way. Earlier, we used to work with universities in Ukraine too but the war has closed that option," Mrinal said.
Ukraine-Russia war background
Over 18,000 Indian nationals, many of them medical students, had to be evacuated by the government after war broke out between Ukraine and Russia in February 2022.
"We then explored Uzbekistan which has been a hidden gem with fantastic universities. We counsel the students about their options, help them choose a university which fits their choice and budget, and then help them with admission formalities and visa process. We also guide them about accommodation options and help them settle in in the new country," he added.
The siblings do not intend to stop there. They plan to expand their services and open hostels for Indian students in these countries.
"One major challenge that Indian students face is Indian food. Either it is not easily available or it is too expensive. There is a business opportunity here. We are planning to open hostels meant specifically for Indian students with the mess serving Indian food. We have begun with the first one in Uzbekistan's Samarkand and the response has been good," said Priya (name changed).
Asked whether they inform their MBBS aspirants about the FMGE and its success rate so they are prepared mentally about what the future beholds, Priya said, "We keep everything transparent with students. We are not into making commissions – just take legitimate fees that universities pay us and we charge a nominal fee from students for assistance with visa processes and other formalities. Our job is to apprise (students) and then herd them to the rather more affordable foreign shores.”
According to Priya, affordable fees of foreign universities is a big draw for aspirants.
"We chose to study abroad because in India the number of seats are very limited in government colleges and studying at a private university costs around ₹80 lakh to 1 crore per student, whereas three of us finished our MBBS in less than ₹60 lakhs. Our father had to sell everything we had to bear these fees and then our dreams crashed because in India, foreign medical graduates are treated differently," she said.
Foreign medical graduates from countries like Russia, Ukraine, China, the Philippines, Bangladesh and Nepal, among others, are allowed to practise in India only after they have cleared the FMGE. However, MBBS graduates from the US, UK, Australia, Canada and New Zealand do not need to take the exam.
There is no cap on the number of attempts for biannual FMGE.
The universities abroad also offer fancy designations to consultants such as "official admission partner" or "dean for international students".
"We have been offered these but we haven't opted for them yet as we are still attempting to clear FMGE," Mrinal said.