Concern over medical exam
By Masami Mustaza, email@example.com
By Masami Mustaza, firstname.lastname@example.org
KUALA LUMPUR: The Malaysian Medical Association (MMA) believes the amendments to the Medical Act 1971 are a progressive step for the country's medical service and industry.
"Allowing medical graduates to practise after passing a local competency examination is already happening in most countries," said MMA president Dr David Quek.
"The United States also requires medical graduates from anywhere in the world, and its various states to pass a qualifying examination, before they are allowed to practise.
"It's a form of quality check. Although the Philippines produces between 4,500 and 5,000 medical graduates per year, they have to sit for the licentiate examination, with only some 2,000 passes annually," he said.
He said some senior doctors had expressed concerns to the MMA on the fairness of the examination.
"But we hope this feeling can be dispelled when the regulatory and examination board members are appointed in a transparent manner, including every responsible stakeholder, medical association representatives, or specialty colleges, and senior physicians," he said.
Last week, Health Minister Datuk Seri Liow Tiong Lai said in Parliament that the act would be amended to make it easier for overseas Malaysian medical students to return home to practise.
The act will abolish the list of 375 medical education institutions recognised by the government, allowing aspiring doctors to study in any medical university in the world.
They only need to obtain a "No Objection" certificate from the Higher Education Ministry, and upon graduation return home to sit and pass a doctor's competency examination to practise in the country.
Previously, many Malaysian medical graduates were deterred from returning home to serve the nation because of recognition hassles.
Neurologist Prof Goh Khean Jin, who heads the University Malaya Medical Centre's clinical department, said the move may result in students enrolling in lesser known private medical schools.
"There's a lot of pressure from today's parents wanting their children to become doctors. There are those who still insist on it although their children are not interested or don't have the grades to get into a medical course."
He said although the doctor's competency examination would be able to weed out those who were not good enough to practise, both parents and students should be aware of the consequences of ending up wasting time and money.
However, Datuk Dr Abdul Razak Kechik, a Malaysian Society for Quality in Health (MSQH) chief surveyor, said a doctor's competency test would help ensure a standard quality among graduates.
"For example, topics like tropical diseases may not be covered by medical schools in Russia but graduates aspiring to practise here must have these knowledge," he said.
However, he said it was not necessary for local medical graduates to sit the doctor's competency examination as the standard of medical studies offered here were of reasonable standard.
"We also have specialists who are very knowledgeable and experienced in their respective fields, teaching in government and private medical institutions.
As a requirement, graduates also need to undergo housemanship in the country, thus setting the standards for doctors," he said.
The doctors also agreed that it was necessary for the government to place a moratorium on new medical programmes offered at local institutions of higher learning.
Dr Quek said there were currently 32 approved medical schools, with some 40 over medical programmes for a population of 28 million in Malaysia, compared with the United Kingdom with a population of 64 million and 170,000 doctors, but only 28 well-established and respected medical schools.
"What we need to do now is to ensure that the currently approved medical schools do exactly what they are supposed to do, not more because of monetary purpose or gain.
"These schools must not be allowed to expand beyond their stipulated capacity, and they must make efforts to ensure that there are enough clinical teaching staff and fully-equipped institutions," he said.
Dr Abdul Razak said: "If there are too many new medical programmes available, it will stretch thin the already limited resources of medical academicians.
His sentiments were echoed by Goh, who said it was important to have enough medical teaching staff in schools to ensure the quality of graduates.
Dr Najma Kori, a doctor in Malacca's Jasin Hospital, said there were too many private medical schools and a growing number of students seeking to become doctors.
"The quality of the housemen we get is not up to expectations. Many have bad attitudes, lacking in clinical knowledge, especially those from lesser known medical schools," she said.
Dr Najma said students who studied in less developed countries may not be familiar with the medication administered in hospitals here.
The number of medical graduates registered annually with MMC has grown from 2,527 in 2008 to 3,150 in 2009 and 3,257 last year.
Currently, about 2,500 students graduate in Malaysia annually and about 1,000 others from abroad.