Activism is ingrained in me since my student life. In my college days, as Secretary of NSUI, we used to take matters relating to students and fight with the Management for better amenities.

Since then, I have always connected with students as I believe that as citizens of tomorrow, they should be nurtured and mouldedproperly.

As destiny would have it, my mentor Shri Sharad Pawarsaheb gave me the responsibility of becoming a Cabinet Minister of Medical Education and Horticulture in Maharashtra and my tryst with students restarted.

To get a feel of what problems students face, what are their aspirations, their expectations, I decided to interact with them directly.

This is how the concept of Coffee with studentswas born.

I started from Mumbai, then Pune and then went across the state, meeting students on this informal platform, inviting them to share their expectations, narrate their grievances, and then try to solve them.

It has been a fascinating journey with the doctors of tomorrow and I narrate here some of my moments with them.

Coffee with Students at Dhule – It was disheartening to know that students face problems in basic amenities like drinking water, sanitation and other basic needs.

Basic needs not being provided shows the medical institute in a very poor light. I decided to move into their shoes and see that the problems of drinking water and sanitation was resolved immediately.

For several years in the past, focus of medical education has changed from students to hospitals. The need now is to concentrate on the well-being of the students because they are tomorrow’s pillars on which Maharashtra’s health & well-being is going to rest.

My interaction with students of Chhatrapati Shahu Government Medical College, Kolhapur, exposed several issues the students are facing, such as lack of class rooms and teachers not giving lectures. The students also sought change in the examination pattern to ensure that the students are not burdened unnecessarily.

The students shared their problems only after getting assurance that no disciplinary action will be taken against them if they bring to light the issues.

The students’ demands included merit scholarships, inclusion of multiple choice questions in the entrance examination for post-graduation, avoidance of clinical posting during vacation, increase in classrooms and in the number of PG seats, and up-to-date library.

I assured the students that all these problems will be solved, and asked the dean of the college, Dashrath Kothule, to immediately initiate work on the issues that come under his jurisdiction.

During the event, a third year student said, “Currently, every subject is divided into two parts and there are separate tests with fixed syllabus for each. But, as per the new pattern of examinations, there will not be any division of syllabus and questions from the first part may appear in the second and vice versa. This increases our burden as the syllabus is vast.”

The student’s argument had merit and I promised to change the examination pattern.

One final year student complained, “One of our teaching faculty took only three lectures in a whole year and we had no option but to do self-study. We had taken the issue to the higher authorities but no action was taken. We did not complain officially as we fear that we may be punished during practical exams and it will ruin our career.”

I promised the students that all their problems will be solved and would soon organise a meeting of the members of the academic council, vice-chancellors and three representatives from every medical college. It will help us get direct interaction with the students and address their problems in the presence of the authorities that take decisions on these issues.

Keeping view and needs of changing times, we took decision to make the premises of all medical colleges Wi-Fi enabled and libraries and classrooms to be air-conditioned. Besides, special courses on stress management and communication skills will be organised in the college, along with regular curriculum.

The Coffee with students at Nagpur has been very eventful. I announced at Mayo Hospital and College building a free wi-fi, air-conditioned reading room, spacious rooms.  

Feedback of all students will be looked into. Also took review of OPD, casualty ward, feedback from patients and instructed all officials to improve conditions immediately. Teacher should become guardians of students. 

Visited hostels, mess and canteen, and placed immediate orders to rectify and upgrade the outdated facilities.

Obviously there is much more to it than just coffee – it’s a platform to connect and resolve issues of the medical students. 

I am happy to have opened up a direct communication channel with medical students via this concept and glad that students continue to interact with me and write to me on a regular basis. I encourage not just youth of the Nation but everybody in general to verbalise issues in the right manner and the right channel as the first step to solving them. Sincerely want ideal conditions for students so that medical colleges of Maharashtra churn out doctors of the best quality.