Tuesday, March 27, 2012

NST: Enough doctors in the house? .... By Syed Nazri

ANNUAL RUSH: Malaysia could be heading for a glut in five years, say practitioners

THIS is the time of year when so many young Malaysians run towards realising childhood ambitions, and parental pressure, of becoming a doctor.
Everyone among them seems to want to be a doctor, lawyer or an engineer, though several years down the road, some might end up being an overworked politician or an underpaid reporter.
It is the transformation season, one that follows the completion and outcome of the Sijil Tinggi Persekolahan Malaysia and Sijil Pelajaran Malaysia examinations. More than half a million of them will start looking at what they are going to do next. And it's quite certain that hundreds, if not thousands, will seek to take up courses related to medicine on their way to becoming doctors. The straight A+s in SPM came up to almost 600, and that's only a small fraction of the doctor hopefuls.
It happens every year; if the high achievers don't get government scholarships to do these courses, they will make noise, call up overworked politicians or write to the newspapers.
But let's look at things in another perspective and consider what was revealed in Parliament last week by Deputy Health Minister Datuk Rosnah Abdul Rashid Shirlin and match it with what doctors themselves think.
Rosnah said: "The number of medical practitioners in the country has increased significantly with the ministry registering over 21,747 in government service last year." (It was recently also reported that there are about 33,000 overall).
Among the reasons for the big number, she said, was that more government scholarships were available for medical studies (from 600 to 800 per year) and more openings for medical practitioners in the ministry's health facilities.
Now, let's ponder over what came out in the latest issue of Berita MMA, the monthly newsletter of the Malaysian Medical Association. The following is an excerpt of an article written by Datuk Dr N. Athimulam. I was told it reflects the views of most, if not all, doctors. It's really hot off the press in more ways than one:
"As per Dec 30, 2011, there were 11 government and 19 private medical colleges, with about eight offshore recognised medical programmes. The strength of medical students in each medical faculty varies. Two private colleges in the southern region with twinning programmes have 1,457 students here and another 1,229 overseas, with a total of 2,686. A newly opened prestigious private university college has a total of 95 medical students.
"On an average, if there are 500 students in each college, then there should be 15,000 medical students in Malaysia," Dr Athimulam, a past president of MMA, wrote.
He added that about 10 years ago, the authorities introduced a requirement referred to as NOC (no objection certificate) to regulate the number by making sure that only really qualified students could take up medicine.
This ruling, however, has not been adhered to. And as a result, he said, the number of Malaysian medical students overseas has increased to "easily more than 25,000", mostly in the Middle East, Indonesia, Russia and Ukraine.
Dr Athimulam further wrote: "The government intends to achieve a target of 87,177 doctors by 2020, by which time the country's population is projected to be 35 million.
"The Health Ministry has set a target ratio of one doctor to every 400 people by 2020", but he expressed fear that there could now be as many as 10,000 medical interns every year, which means that the government target for 2020 "will be reached by 2017".
Then the cruncher: "Unless the government controls medical education, there may be a glut of doctors by 2017 or 2018."
The way things are going, I don't know for sure whether it is good or bad. On one hand, Malaysians aspire to take the country to become a developed and high-income nation in a few years.
Which means a sufficient number of doctors.
But on the flipside, are we doing it the right way and not compromising on quality?
Whatever it is, this paper is offering a timely service to post-school Malaysians about career choices and the right courses, including medicine.
The New Straits Times will publish a weekly pullout starting today that will serve as a guide to students intending to pursue higher education. Be sure to get your copy.

Read more: Enough doctors in the house? - Columnist - New Straits Times http://www.nst.com.my/opinion/columnist/enough-doctors-in-the-house-1.66656#ixzz1qJMFUAQF

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