7:48pm 12/05/2022
Sweat and tears beneath the white coats
By:Sin Chew Daily

If they eventually give up the profession because of bullying, that is not because they are not mentally strong enough to withstand the stress, but that the degree of bullying has gone way beyond our imagination!

Doctors should have been the practitioners of a highly esteemed profession. A specialist doctor not only draws a handsome monthly paycheck but can also save the lives of patients, much to the envy of many.

Unfortunately things are not quite the same here in Malaysia.

For the past ten years or so, we have seen the mushrooming of medical schools in the country besides 346 foreign medical schools recognized by the Malaysian government. Doing a medical course, therefore, doesn’t look that difficult nowadays, as medial colleges increase their yearly admission quotas, with as many as 6,000 new graduates being produced each year.

As of 2021, there were 71,000 doctors in the country with the doctor-population ratio down to 1:460, better than WHO’s 1:500 recommendation.

Yes, we have enough of general practitioners here, but there are still plenty of fresh graduates joining the job market every year. As a result, we may have to face the dilemma of not having enough facilities to accommodate all the interns.

Currently, there are only 48 medical institutions in the country accepting not more than 4,000 housemen each year while the rest are waiting for their turns for housemanship.

The brief walkout (lasting not more than half an hour) by contract doctors on July 26 last year marked the first public expression of frustration.

All they wanted was very simple, to be accorded the same kind of treatment as the medical officers. But more importantly, they wanted longer contracts that would give them sufficient time for training in order to become specialist doctors in future. Such demands are quite reasonable, and should help solve the issue of specialist shortage.

Sadly, the appeals of these contract doctors numbering over 10,000 were short-lived, and they would have to continue fighting for their rights in future.

That’s not the end of the story. Last week, the tragic death of a trainee doctor brought to light the ugly scandal of bullying by medical officers.

If what we have known so far is only the tip of the iceberg, then throughout the long years of medical training, there is not just sweat but also tears beneath the white coats!

Malaysian Medical Association (MMA) president Dr Koh Kar Chai said in a press conference on Tuesday that as many as 26% of medical graduates opted to abandon their white coats half way through their internship.

We feel utterly sorry that these people have to forego the profession they have studied so hard to pursue, during their housemanship.

Many who have quit the medical profession have believably done so after their housemanship as they discovered it was not really suited to them. They might have done the course to please their parents, and might have also suffered indescribable stress throughout the learning process. And as for bullying during housemanship, Dr Koh said it was the “last straw that broke the camel’s back”!

It’s not easy to pursue a medical course. You have to be exceptionally good in your academic results, and pay much heavier tuition fees at university.

Going to a medical school is a remote dream for the have-nots and many parents have difficulty paying their children’s university tuition fees, often having to sacrifice the studies of other children just to make sure one of them could go to a medical school!

Studying medicine is going to be very tough for the kids, who have their families’ lofty expectations falling on their frail shoulders. They will never give up half way through their studies unless they are left with no alternatives.

If they eventually give up the profession because of bullying, that is not because they are not mentally strong enough to withstand the stress, but that the degree of bullying has gone way beyond our imagination!

26% dropout rate means an average of 1,500 people give up their dreams of becoming doctors every year, which is a very shocking revelation. While there might be some who simply cannot cope with the work, they shouldn’t make up as much as 26%!

There are currently more than 30 medical schools in the country, plus 346 recognized foreign medical programs. We have no idea how good all these schools are, but 6,000 local and oversea medical graduates churned out each year is indeed an excessive number. If we can’t even accommodate all the housemen, how worried should we be about the quality of our doctors rushed through their internships?

We have triple as many medical students here as in Taiwan, and that’s really a lot! What the government should do now is to seriously consider shrinking the admission quotas and tightening the vetting criteria of new applicants so that we won’t have 26% dropout rate any more.

As for the nearly 20,000 qualified doctors in the country, the government should offer them Federal Training Grant (HLP) to pursue postgraduate specialist programs.



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