For Future Doctors: General Misconception of being a doctor PART 1
Over the last few months, many budding doctors have contacted me to ask about the future prospects of doing medicine. Of course I gave them a depressing night after informing them of the current and future prospects of doctors in Malaysia. During these discussions I realise that many of these people do not understand a lot of issues surrounding the field of medicine. Thus I was obliged to write this article to wake up these people from their dream of “guaranteed” life if you were to become a doctor!
1) Guaranteed Job and Good salary/can make money
Many parents still believe that being a doctor guarantee their children’s future. Well, it may be so before but not in another 5-10 years time. You can read about these issues in my MMA articles column. 20 years ago we only had 3 medical schools producing about 400 doctors a year but now we have almost 30 medical schools in the country (the highest per capita population in the world). Last year alone, almost 4000 new doctors started housemanship in Ministry of Health (MOH). The number will further increase in coming years when all the medical schools start to produce their graduates. I believe it will reach a figure of 6000/year by 2015.
This is where issues arise. Even now, the MOH is struggling to place these doctors in various hospitals in the country. We have almost 30-40 houseofficers in each department now not knowing what to do every day. Their training is compromised and they are being released after that without proper training with license to kill! I may sound negative but this is the reality. Even district hospitals are being used to train houseofficers now, starting 2010. As you would have read in the papers recently of parents complaining that their child has been transferred to East Malaysia after completing housemanship, it is a known fact that the shortage of doctors at this point of time is in East Malaysia. As our MOH Director General had said, most doctors will be sent to Sabah and Sarawak from this year on wards.
What’s going to happen in the next few years? Again, my prediction is, there will be surplus of doctors by 2015. There will more bodies than post in MOH by 2015. Doctors most likely will need to queue up to be posted in government service. You will be sent to rural and East Malaysia to serve. Any appeal will not be entertained. If you think this would not happen, please look at the nurses! 5 years ago, the government began to approve numerous nursing colleges due to shortage of nurses. Now, we have surplus of nurses without any jobs. I know of nurses who are currently working in petrol stations! BTW, the MOH is currently considering introducing common entry exams for all medical graduates. Only those who pass this exam will be given housemanship post. This will happen soon.
Furthermore there may be a pay cut for doctors when all the post are filled. One of the allowance known as critical allowance of RM 750 will be removed once all the posts are filled. Critical allowance is never a fixed allowance and is usually reviewed every 3 years. As you know, the pharmacist’s critical allowance is going to be removed if not already.
I had one budding doctor who said that the reason she wanted to do medicine is because it is the only field where you have a guaranteed job and a starting salary of RM 6000. Well, I have talked about guaranteed job issue above but she is definitely wrong in stating that the starting salary. The starting salary of HO has gone up over the last 5 years; no doubt about it (please read my MMA article). However, the starting salary of HO currently is about RM 3500 to about RM4000 after including the on-call allowance. Remember, your salary only increases about RM 70/year. You will only reach a salary of RM 6000 after 7 years of service as a medical officer, when you are promoted to U48 according to current promotional prospect in civil service introduced end of last year! BTW, other than the difference of critical allowance, a doctor’s salary is only RM 200 more than a pharmacist in civil service!
2) Medical degree recognition
If I can’t work in Malaysia, I can go to Singapore or Australia to work, right?
Again, another misconception. Many do not know that medicine is a very peculiar field and cannot be compared to any other profession. In order for you to work in another country, your degree needs to be recognised by the Medical Council of the other country. If it is not recognised, you would not be able to work there. For your information, only UKM and UM degrees are recognised in Singapore.
Almost all medical degrees from Malaysia are NOT recognised elsewhere. Malaysia Boleh mah! Only Monash University Malaysia’s medical degree is recognised by Australian Medical Council and thus you would be able to work in Australia/New Zealand. Some of the private medical colleges do twinning programmes with external universities from Ireland/UK/India etc. These may be recognised depending on which degree and where you graduate from.
3) Housemanship & Compulsory service
I have mentioned a little about housemanship above. As you know the housemanship has been extended to 2 years since 2008. Even though it is good for your own training but it does prolong your future postgraduate training. After Housemanship you have to undergo another 2 years of compulsory service before you decide to resign for private practise or pursue your postgraduate degree. It is during this compulsory service that you will be posted to anywhere in the country.
Furthermore, housemanship is not an easy posting. Even though the numbers of HOs have increased tremendously over the last 2 years, it is still a very exhausting job. Many have had a mental breakdown during housemanship. I just heard of a houseman who is on psychiatric MC for the last 2 months! It seems she thought that being a doctor is just like sitting in a clinic and seeing cold cases (probably she thought she can become a GP immediately!)
4) Hard work and post graduate training
20-30 years ago, being an MBBS holder itself is good enough. You can easily open a clinic and become a GP and well respected by the community. But things are changing. Even GP practise is a speciality by itself in many countries (Master in Family Medicine/FRACGP etc). Malaysia is also moving towards that. Many patients are demanding and would prefer to see a specialist directly nowadays.
Thus it is important that when you join medicine undergraduate degree, please be prepared to continue your education for another 10 years after graduation! In order for you to complete your postgraduate education, it will easily take another 10 years, assuming you pass all your exams in one try! So, don’t assume your education is only 5 years! MBBS do not mean anything now, in fact it is only considered as a diploma!
Getting into postgraduate training is also becoming increasing difficult. The number of places for Master’s programme is very much limited in local universities. The demand is greater than supply and of course don’ forget the quota system as well! Other than MRCP (UK) – internal medicine, MRCPCH (UK) – paediatric and MRCOG – Obstetric, you have to depend on local master’s programme for your speciality. Thus, you have a very limited option. With such a big number of doctors coming into the market now, I can assure you that getting a place for post graduate education is going to be a major problem in 2-3 years time! Be prepared.
TO BE CONTINUED………………………….