PETALING JAYA: After five years in medical school, Pang Kah Junn has finally received a bachelor’s degree in medicine and surgery and is currently applying for his housemanship.
He has to go through screening by the Public Service Commission (PSC), after which the Universiti Tunku Abdul Rahman graduate will have to wait for his placement. He does not know how long the wait will be.
He will join nearly 2,000 medical, pharmacy and dentistry graduates who have passed their PSC screening and are waiting for their appointment to undergo graduate training in government hospitals.
With news from his seniors that he might have to wait for 10 months or more, Pang has been looking for jobs to earn some pocket money in the meantime.
But he is worried that his medical knowledge and practical skills might get rusty.
“Of course, I could brush up on the skills during housemanship and right before, but there will be a discrepancy when compared to starting soon after graduation,” he told FMT.
Pharmacy graduate Jocelyn Ong, knowing that it will be a long wait for her housemanship, has been working as a pharmacy assistant in a clinic since completing her studies at UCSI University last July.
“I wish my training as a PRP (provisionally registered pharmacist) will start as soon as possible,” she said. “I want to be posted to East Malaysia, mainly because most people don’t want to work there and are fighting for a spot in KL.”
To help ease the situation, the health ministry has increased the number of graduate training slots from 10,835 to 12,153, raised the number of graduate training hospitals from 38 to 49 and increased the number of alternative disciplines from five to nine.
Malaysian Medical Association president Dr N Ganabaskaran sees the effort to increase the number of training slots as only a short-term solution. He told FMT it would only clear the backlog of waiting graduates.
He said the government must look at controlling the medical graduate output to a number the system could sustain.
“We are now seeing the result of decisions made in the late 1990s and early 2000s to increase the number of medical schools in the country and increase the number of healthcare graduates per year,” he said.
“We saw a mushrooming of healthcare colleges and universities during that time and this has led to the glut that we currently have.”
Ganabaskaran commended the government for setting a moratorium on new medical schools in 2010 and said it must stay for at least another 10 years as Malaysia has more medical schools per capita than Australia and Britain.
“We should look to market our medical schools to other countries. The standard of our medical education is high,” he said.
He called for a reduction in the number of recognised medical schools overseas from 400 to 100 and for the lifting of the moratorium on new hiring for healthcare to ensure adequate staffing to address the health needs of a growing population.
Ganabaskaran also urged the health ministry to consider extending the contracts for medical officers to about 10 years to allow for specialist training and career progress.
Malaysian Medics International chairman Dr Vikkineshwaran Siva Subramaniam supported Ganabaskaran’s suggestions, saying the country was short of medical specialists.
“It’s a systemic issue that has problems at various levels,” he said. “We don’t have enough specialists. So we’re not able to train enough doctors. Because of that, we’re not able to allow enough doctors to become specialists. It’s a never-ending cycle at the moment.
“For junior doctors whose contracts end after two years, there is going to be a lot of limitations for them in the private sector as patients prefer to be treated by experienced specialists.”
Vikkineshwaran said the government should look at ensuring that graduates receive well-rounded training by handling a variety of medical cases beyond the stomach aches and flu.
“If we take in a lot of doctors, they wouldn’t be getting optimum training. That defeats the purpose of housemanship. It has to be about quality rather than quantity,” he said.