Time to take care of our doctors

MAY 11 ― You don’t need to be very smart to be someone important in Malaysia, do you?

Expensive tolls? Use non-tolled roads. Expensive chicken? Eat fish. Grow “kangkung”. Grow vegetables on the roof. Expensive petrol? Use public transport.

And the latest silly reply is regarding the glut of medical graduates in Malaysia.

Bernama quoted Datuk Dr S. Jeyaindran to have said, “The current system provides for new medical graduates to work with the Health Ministry only, but now when there is a glut of medical graduates, perhaps we need to have an open mind and think out of the box.

“We need to think whether they should only work in the clinical section or serve in other ministries like in other countries including India.”

India is not the solution

It’s good that the ministry is asking the graduates to think outside the box. But what about them? How are they thinking outside the box?

Because asking graduates to do something other than what they were taught and trained to do, and looking at India for a solution cannot be it. India has the same problem but in bigger magnitude and at the time of writing, has not managed to solve them.

India produces, according to a research, about 50,000 doctors per year from 380 medical colleges. Many of the doctors are unemployed and as many as 20,000 left the country in 2014.

Unfathomable why and how would they allow the glut to reach this stage, but even more perplexing is why can’t they identify and rectify the one root cause to their problem.

At this rate, India is estimated to have 1 million unemployed doctors by 2030 and the corrective action has been elusive to them. But here’s a crazy idea.

Cut the production and raise the standards, stat!

Which is what Malaysia should do. But instead, we have one of the top ranking ministry officers looking to India for solutions.

What a joke.

Reducing the number of graduates.

We currently have 28 medical schools for a population of about 30 million. Just as a comparison, the United Kingdom, with a population of about 64 million has 34 medical colleges, Canada at about 35 million, has 17 institutions offering medical degrees.

While we cannot close down existing schools in the country, we can definitely reduce the number of schools from about the existing 360 we recognise overseas.

Can’t we?

Singapore for instance recognises only 150. They only recognise one school in Pakistan and none in Indonesia. Malaysia, on the other hand, recognises 13 from each country.

Singapore recognises nine schools in India. We recognise 91. They do not recognise any medical schools in Bangladesh. We recognise four.

I’m not saying that we follow exactly what the Singaporeans do, but there must be a reason why they are where and who they are. We might not have had enough doctors before, but since now we do, let's revisit and raise the standards as to what is acceptable to us.

The number of medical graduates produced must be related to the short term and long term healthcare plan.

Quo vadis Ministry of Health?

Acceptable medical degree

For instance, why are we accepting degrees from countries that can’t even provide electricity, water, sanitation, basic health and education to their citizens? Or countries that are in and out of civil war and unrest?

Sure, they might have good medical schools but why should we compromise the future of Malaysia’s best?

While we understand that medical schools, like any other business entity must remain profitable to sustain operations, their raison d'etre must first and foremost be to produce safe doctors who are passionate about medicine and their patients.

Their responsibility should therefore extend beyond graduation into the housemenship years.

Housemen who fail to complete the programme or are tagged with attitude problems should be referred back to their colleges for counselling and remedial measures. Let’s call this the “return” policy. This will make colleges wary, paving the way not only towards the setting of higher standards for admittance, but also sourcing and adopting medical syllabus par excellence.

Their job goes beyond getting the students to pass exams, but also competent to face the challenges of the 21st century.

Or else the housemen will be sent back to them for a “retune.”

Guidance, direction and leadership please

Doctors are silly people really. It’s one of the professions that treat and sacrifice without expecting a “thank you.”

Then again, why should we? It’s part of the job. I didn’t even know there was a Doctor’s Day until my 6th or 7th year in service.

Even then, it is pretty much a muted event.

But as difficult, thankless and unbelievable as it is, all we ask from the ministry is the ability to help, contribute, serve and treat society without hindrance and obstacles. To that end, we need strong guidance, direction, leadership and perhaps political will to make tough calls when and where needed.

Finding “space” to park doctors at other ministries and government agencies, or looking at countries like India to solve the glut cannot and should not be the first answer.

The least they could do is to ensure that all that can be done, is being done to safeguard the health and wellbeing of Malaysians.

And the wellbeing of all Malaysians starts with the wellbeing, the passion and preparedness of our young doctors.

* This is the personal opinion of the columnist.

Related Articles