The warm and friendly family doctor, often seen in old movies, is dying a silent death. Despite the government's commitment towards creating family doctors, their number is almost nonexistent, according to health experts.
The national health policy, 2002, talks about progressive implementation of mandatory norms to raise the proportion of postgraduate seats in public health and family medicine in medical training institutions to meet the need for specialists in these disciplines.
"A family doctor has now become specialised who is taught internal medicine, modern surgery gynaecology, paediatrics and more. The doctor is equipped to handle diseases of all age groups in a family," Dr Jugal Kishore of Maulana Azad Medical College said.
However, there is no MD specialisation in family medicine. The only course for specialisation in family medicine is the diplomate of national board (DNB), a three-year diploma course. But only around five-six per cent of the seats in DNB are allotted to family medicine. For public health, only around five per cent of all MD seats are allotted.
It is not just the issue of non-availability of sufficient seats, family medicine has lesser social acceptance in current times. "Who wants to become a specialist in family medicine? Everybody wants cardiology or neurology which are more glamorous," Dr (prof.) Ranjit Roy Chaudhury, a leading clinical pharmacologist said. "We don't get people wanting to do DNB in family medicine. The Medical Council of India (MCI) is even ready to start MD in family medicine if any medical college is willing to take it," Chaudhury said. Even patients want to go to specialists," he added.
In 2011, some 160 students opted for DNB in family medicine while 300 could have been admitted. "It looks like the family doctor will never come back. We no longer have a doctor who visits a house, has a cup of tea and checks the blood pressure of the family members," Chaudhury said.
The private sector is coming up with family clinics but these clinics are beyond the reach of the poor.