Prime Minister Hun Sen on Tuesday said the thesis requirement for medical students will continue to be implemented and called on government officials to find ways for overburdened university staff to deal with the workload that requirement demands.
An April 2007 decree made it mandatory for medical students to defend a thesis before earning degrees above the level of a baccalaureate. But Hun Sen on Tuesday said that there were not enough professors to advise every MD candidate.
“One patron [thesis adviser] cannot control 50 or 60 students; it is impossible, the Ministry of Education has to develop a method to resolve the situation,” Hun Sen said while presiding over a graduation ceremony at the National Institute of Education in Phnom Penh.
“I am really worried, human life is not funny and the word doctor means so much,” Hun Sen said.
University of Health Sciences professor Dr Alain Mouzard said by telephone Tuesday a majority of the school’s medical students were indeed not presenting a thesis, and therefore are not getting their final degree.
Each student needs a thesis director to help formulate the topic, do the research, and write the thesis, he said, and later a committee of four must hear the student’s thesis presentation.
Even stretching himself thin, a professor could at best be thesis director for five to 10 students a year, Mouzard said. There are less than 50 professors and the prime minister insisted there be 700 students in each graduating class, he said, making it mathematically impossible.
He added however that he believed the presentation of a thesis was not necessary for a school to produce qualified physicians.
“Presenting a thesis and being a good doctor shouldn’t be lumped together. You can be a very good doctor without presenting a thesis,” he said.
Education Ministry secretary of state Mak Vann, who is charged with overseeing higher education, disagreed with that assessment.
He said that a thesis was crucial in that it teaches research and it encourages in-depth scrutiny of societal problems. “This is the big challenge that cannot be missed,” he said.
Health Ministry Undersecretary of State Chea Chhay said students can defend their theses after their seven years of medical classes.
“We will give them a temporary certificate, and we will only give them the real certificate after they give us their thesis,” he said by telephone, adding that students can take as long as they want to return for their theses defenses.
International University Vice President of Administration and Finance Dr Sabo Ojano said that his school will adhere to the thesis standard when they begin graduating master’s degree students. “There are guidelines and we need to meet the guidelines and will,” he said during an interview Tuesday, adding the university had not had offered master’s degrees in the medical field long enough for anyone to complete the program.
The International University is the only private institution offering advanced degrees in the medical field; the others are public institutions. Both public and private universities are required to meet the standards set forth by the ministries of Education and Health.
(Additional reporting by Isabelle Roughol)