Heart diseases are India’s biggest killers. In 2016, 28.1 percent of all deaths were due to cardiovascular ailments. Yet, despite losing 1.7 million lives to heart disease every year, India does not have enough cardiologists to manage the burden.
India needs 88,000 cardiologists. It has just 4,000. By comparison, there are 31,890 cardiologists in the United States. Concerningly, cardiology appears not to be attracting the number of medical students necessary to fill vacancies. This could entail further shortages in the future.
Last year, 552 seats remained vacant out of the 1,907 super specialty medical seats for which admissions were completed, according to the Financial Express. Of the 552 vacant seats, 55 were in cardiology. Another 104 were in cardiovascular and thoracic surgery.
Limited career prospects might be driving the lack of interest in the field. This is according to Dr. Shiv Choudhary, Professor of Cardiothoracic and Vascular Surgery at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), speaking to The Financial Express.
Choudhary was interviewing individuals for government postings. He needed 22 surgeons in his field. Only fourteen applied. Of these, just six appeared for the interview. Choudhary chose all six interviewees. Ultimately, just two joined.
There are many reasons why cardiology holds such limited appeal for young doctors. Career progression is one of them. Dr. Choudhary notes that a urologist may be able to practice independently by the age of thirty. For a cardiologist, this might not occur until the age of 45.
Adding to the limited appeal of cardiology as a career path for prospective doctors is the potential for long, grueling hours. A cardiologist may be expected to work shifts of eighteen to twenty hours, according to Dr. Choudhary. Single surgeries can occupy several hours, depending on the procedure.
This under-recruiting could exacerbate existing shortages of cardiologists and other specialist doctors. This could mean that India’s healthcare system will be less able to deal with heart diseases in the future – a concern as they increase in prevalence.
The Cardiological Society of India (CSI) urged both the government and citizenry to prioritize heart health as a priority, to mark World Health Day 2018. The CSI cites the need for a comprehensive country-wide screening programme. Rural communities should be targeted in particular.
Many hold the belief that NCDs are a problem that is restricted to urban India. Some doctors practicing in rural areas are campaigning to change this perception. They note that many trends are occurring in rural India at similar rates as in urban settings. Such trends include such as increased rates of hypertension (high blood pressure). As these risk factors grow in prevalence, associated conditions such as heart disease and diabetes are also becoming more common.
Factors contributing to the rapid rise in the number of individuals with heart disease include tobacco use, unhealthy diet, physical inactivity and psychosocial stress. Public education surrounding these risk factors could curb the increase in heart diseases and other NCDs. However, without adequate numbers of cardiologists, the situation will be difficult to control. As such, many patients will face experience difficulty availing vital – and often life-saving – treatment.