About 50 students from the state-run University of Health Sciences protested outside the school Thursday to demand a decrease in the $125 fee they must pay to take their exit examination, which certifies them as medical doctors.
The Health Ministry began making medical students sit the exam for the first time in April 2014 as part of an effort to reform the country’s health sector.
Chhung Raksmey, an eighth-year student at the university who is ready to take the exam to become a general physician, said undergraduates were unhappy that they had to pay such a high fee to become doctors and were seeking to have it lowered to $75.
“If the Ministry of Health and the government want the medical field to have quality, they have to use the national budget to support it,” he said. “They don’t have to collect our money to improve our education.”
Heng Tai Kry, a secretary of state with the Ministry of Health, declined to comment on the issue.
Mr. Raksmey, 28, said those studying to become general physicians spend about $1,000 per year on tuition and are poorly paid once they graduate, forcing them to recoup their expenses by being corrupt.
“Doctors will betray their own wisdom, because they will have to spend a long time on their study, spend a lot of money. When I come out I will have to collect the money back,” he said.
Ung Prahors, acting director of the Cambodia Health Committee, an NGO working to improve the health sector, said the exit exam is needed to ensure a high standard of knowledge among graduating medical doctors.
“If the exam is properly organized then it is a good thing,” he said. “But if students are paying bribes to pass, than that is a disadvantage.”
Mr. Prahors said that if some of the $125 fee, which “is a bit high,” went toward bolstering salaries at the medical school, it could help ensure that teachers do not take bribes to pass students.
Students protesting Thursday were also demanding an increase to the maximum age limit for graduates looking to work in public hospitals.
Currently, certified medical doctors cannot apply to work in public hospitals if they are over the age of 30. The students want the age increased to 35.
“I never understood the reasoning behind this,” Mr. Prahors said. “It should be raised to at least 40 years of age.”
(Additional reporting by Alex Consiglio)