Thursday, December 2, 2010

NST: Editorial: In need of senior doctors

NST: Editorial: In need of senior doctors


THE president of the Malaysian Medical Association has expressed doubts over the strategy of producing medical graduates as fast as possible to help address the shortage of doctors as it could lead to a "serious glut of doctors" and a "possible erosion of standards". Undoubtedly, the dramatic increase in the number of medical students and medical schools in the last decade --- from four 10 years ago to more than 20 today -- has posed challenges in terms of quality, staffing and infrastructure. 
However, just because fresh medical graduates are starting to tax the training hospitals -- more than 3,600 this year, and some 4,000 to 5,000 from next year -- it does not necessarily mean that we will face a serious oversupply problem. On the contrary, as we have just over 31,000 doctors and we need 85,000 in 10 years, it is more than likely that we will need every medical graduate that we can produce.
Certainly, as the sharp rise in numbers has resulted in a glut of housemen and the training hospitals are struggling to meet the demands of training the next generation of doctors, there is cause for concern. Needless to say, as housemanship is an essential component of medical training, it is vital to make sure that the interns get the necessary hands-on clinical experience and skills.

The problem seems to be insufficient senior doctors to train and supervise the new crop of housemen. As it is, the Health Ministry has pressed smaller hospitals into service, and is looking to hiring foreign specialists to help the training hospitals cope with the influx of fresh medical graduates. Just as we have looked outside the public medical faculties to address the doctor shortage, perhaps we should utilise settings beyond the government hospitals to help shoulder the training load.

As far as the dubious quality of the graduates from questionable foreign and local medical schools is concerned, as it is the task of the Malaysian Medical Council to regulate and review these institutions to make sure they measure up to the expected standards, there should be no question about any "dilemma" in carrying out its task. Either someone is good enough to be accepted into an accredited medical school, or he or she is not, and either an institution is fit to be recognised, or it is not.

That said, the challenge is not just to make more places available for more students as a solution to the doctor shortage, but also to make sure that this does not affect the quality of teaching and training that they receive.

Read more: In need of senior doctors

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