From Dr Leonard Goh
I am humbled by the overwhelming support and love from within the fraternity and beyond in response to my previous letter, “I’m sorry, I’m leaving”.
I wrote the letter for a few reasons.
Firstly, I sought to give voice to the multitude of government doctors and other healthcare professionals who have worked hard to make it here, but ultimately found their efforts to be in vain, and are now leaving the country, weary and disappointed.
I also hoped to illustrate that while financial remuneration might be a factor in the decision to leave, there are other intangible aspects at play, such as the lack of job satisfaction and opportunities for self-actualisation.
On a more personal note, I wrote it as a form of closure to my dream of lifelong public service in Malaysia.
While that personal dream has vanished, I am still hoping that my dream for the Malaysian healthcare system will eventually materialise. What can I say? I am a stubborn idealist and fervent dreamer.
I dream of the day when our healthcare system is optimally staffed at all levels and properly equipped. The day when “work-life balance” is a reality rather than an aspiration.
The day when we no longer worry about disruptions in the availability of laboratory tests and medications due to funding issues.
The day when we can rely on regularly maintained equipment rather than rolling the dice with malfunctioning ones.
The day when staff nurses and assistant medical officers are not forced to cover double gruelling 8-hour shifts every other day because there is simply not enough manpower.
The day when we read about doctors dying in car accidents after pulling 36-hour shifts becomes part of history books, rather than newspapers.
I dream of the day when the workload ceases to be overwhelming. Only then, would each patient receive the time that they deserve to better understand their illness and medications.
Doctors and pharmacists would be able to properly educate and counsel every patient. No more would they be compelled, under the pressure of time, to barrage patients with an avalanche of information and hope that it sticks, all within a grand total of two minutes per patient.
Perhaps then our patients will have good health literacy.
I dream of the day when Malaysian patients and doctors are equal partners in the pursuit of health. Patients need to take ownership of their own health, and to seek treatment earlier rather than later.
At the same time, we also need to ensure that they are able to do so by ensuring easy accessibility of tertiary services, not just primary care, across the country.
The elephant in the room in any discussion on healthcare reform is of course healthcare financing.
Without funds, the whole matter becomes moot. The lack of a sustainable financing model underpins all other symptoms of our ailing system.
This thorny issue has been debated multiple times before, with no concrete outcome. Before we demand for action from the government, perhaps we, the rakyat and the owners of our Malaysian public healthcare system, have to recognise the hard truth – the current financing scheme is not tenable and needs urgent review.
A cup of coffee costs way more than RM1 these days, yet we somehow expect that same ringgit to cover a doctor’s consultation, adequate staffing of allied health support services, costs of laboratory and radiological investigations, and even medication supply. This is one pipe dream which will never materialise.
On the other hand, I know that my Malaysian healthcare dream is definitely within our reach. Our country has the brains, and it is slowly building up the necessary will required to affect these changes.
Sustained public discourse and institutional action to revamp healthcare financing is imperative, lest this dream remains exactly that – a mere dream.
Happy 2023, Malaysia. May this year be the year of healing for our public healthcare system.
Dr Leonard Goh served as a contract doctor in a government hospital from 2019 to 2022 and is an FMT reader.
The views expressed are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect those of FMT.