Water cannons were used to stop the students, most of them in their early 20s, from marching to the office of Health Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad.
In May this year, the government said that after getting their MBBS degree and before they start work as doctors, all students from private and government colleges have to spend a year at a rural posting. The rule is meant to apply next year and will affect nearly 40,000 students.
Without proof that they have completed this one-year internship, doctors cannot apply for the entrance test for a post-graduate course for specialisation.
The government says that it wants to improve services under the National Rural Health Mission and has, therefore, increased the three-month internship period to one year after they complete their MBBS.
But students say that their five-and-half-year MBBS course does not give them the expertise to handle emergencies in rural areas with poor infrastructure. Many say that the constraint of resources makes it impossible to help patients improve. They also point to an alarming number of attacks on doctors by frustrated relatives in government hospitals where there is little security.
Students want the rural posting to be voluntary and a part of their post-graduate course.
"We already spend about 8.5 years studying to be a doctor. Many have to miss a couple of years studying to get into a good post-graduate course. Why not include this one year as a part of the PG program instead of us having to spend an additional year on the internship?" asked Karandeep Singh, who was among Thursday's protesters.
For now, the Health Ministry has assured the medical students that their concerns will be considered, without giving a time frame.