With the allowance cut, should you study medicine?

Healthcare practitioners will not be smiling after the allowance cut. (Rawpixel pic)

Recently, the Public Service Department (JPA) announced that the government will be abolishing the critical allowance given to doctors, nurses, engineers and other professionals joining the civil service starting 2020.

Naturally this was met with an uproar, especially among young professionals and students who intend to pursue their tertiary studies in medicine.

While the allowance cut affects all working in the civil service, the Malaysian Medical Association (MMA) predicts that the impact will be most felt in public healthcare.

“Healthcare professionals seem to be specifically targeted when it comes to budget cuts, and there seems to be an ever-increasing burden being placed on junior doctors,” claims the MMA.

What will happen after the critical allowance cut?

Based on health ministry records, the number of inpatient and outpatient visits to government hospitals and clinics has quadrupled in the last decade from 17 million in 2008 to 77 million visits in 2018.

With government hospitals already shorthanded in terms of medical experts and supporting staff, the critical allowance cut is sure to further worsen the problem.

The allowance was created in 1992 as an incentive to draw talents into critical fields within the public sector.

The cut will certainly drive graduates to join the private sector where the pay is much higher, and exponentially the competition for jobs.

Malaysian Medics International (MMI), an organisation for Malaysian medical students worldwide, took to Twitter to break down the average salary of a doctor hired from January 2020 onwards.

(MMI Doctors official Twitter pic)

In 2018, there was an intake of 20,911 students within the health and welfare field. The enrolment rate for the health and welfare field was 82,279 students, and the number of graduates produced was a total of 17,284 students.

These numbers highlight the impact of the critical allowance cut, as they will be the ones to enter the workforce starting from 2020.

It is standard for medical students in Malaysia to undergo housemanship training at government hospitals. According to those who have undergone housemanship training in Malaysia, the reality of working in the medical sector is far from ideal.

Dr Sasitharan Ayanai, a Malaysian doctor who recently opened up about his drug addiction caused by job-related stress, noted that junior doctors face mental stress, sleep deprivation and a work culture that can prove to be abusive.

On top of that, they are also overworked, with Dr Ayanai citing long work shifts, often up to 48 hours without proper rest.

With all the existing issues of public medical sector and now the critical allowance cut, it is inevitable that medical students will choose to work in the private sector where the salary is substantially higher, but job opportunities and placements are limited.

Government hospitals stand to lose medical experts

With medical graduates driven to join the private sector, government hospitals stand to lose a large number of medical experts that can contribute greatly to the country.

This will undoubtedly worsen the issues already prevailing within public healthcare.

With the details of the critical allowance cut broken down, the primary question still stands.

Is it worth it for potential university students to pursue medicine, knowing their fate years down the road?

Students will spend five years of their lives in university, then two more years for housemanship training.

The critical allowance cut may eventually persuade students to pursue other professions, knowing competition in the private sector is great.

Following the announcement by JPA, Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad has agreed to delay the critical allowance cut pending a decision from the next Cabinet meeting, according to Youth Minister Syed Saddiq.

Similar to what most Malaysians believe, critics say that cutting the incentive will ultimately drive talents away from sectors crucial to the public, including healthcare and education.

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