For Future Doctors: Housemanship, Medical Officer and Postgraduate Training (Part 1)
I received more than 10 000 visitors to my blog posting on “The General Misconception of Doctors Part 1 & Part 2” since 08/09/2010. I also had many comments supporting my article. Surprisingly, most of the comments were from medical students and young doctors who just started housemanship or just completed. I also had some overseas doctors giving their comment, not sure whether they are Malaysians or ex-Malaysians?
Even though many supported my articles, I also had few asking me to tell them what is in store during housemanship and postgraduate training in detail. Thus I thought it is about time I give them the full detail, to my knowledge, about the current and future situation in Malaysia. There was a person who asked me to write some positive aspect of being a doctor. Well, I only have 1, a total satisfaction of treating a patient till recovery. But always remember, you can only cure sometimes. I have had a medical student who refused to go to the ward after seeing a young boy dying of Leukaemia. Well, this will be a daily affair once you set foot into the medical field. Be prepared to see people die no matter what you do. To comfort always but to cure sometimes should be your motto!
I will divide this section into 3 subsections, explaining what has been happening since 1990s in housemanship training;
1a) Before 2000
Before 2000, the housemanship training use to have 4 monthly rotations in Obstetrics & Gynaecology, Medicine or Paediatric and Surgery or Orthopaedic. After the 1 year training, you will be transferred to rural or semirural areas to serve in district hospitals or Klinik Kesihatans (KK) (health clinics). Most of the time, these rural postings are a wonderful experience but a little bit scary due to lack of senior people to consult or assist you.
One of the major faults in this system is the fact that if you do Medicine, you will miss Paediatric and if you do Surgery, you will miss Ortho. Only O&G was made compulsory. Thus, the government felt it was inadequate. Many will go to KK and District Hospitals without doing Paediatrics/Medicine and Orthopaedics/Surgery. A lot of the time, you need to depend on the senior nurses or Medical Assistants (MA). I must say that during that time, the nurses and MAs were excellent. They were second to doctors, not to be compared with the current generation of nurses and MAs.
BTW, just to mention, the HO’s take home salary before 2000 use to be RM 1648!! Pathetic isn’t it? You won’t even be able to buy a car/house. The car loan interest rate than was 6-8%! You will get RM 20 for each on-call that you do! This “On Call” allowance was only introduced in 1994. Prior to that, you are not paid a single cent for your “On-Calls”, free labour for the government mah……………..
1b) After 2000
Around the year 2000-2002, a new posting known as junior medical officer postings was introduced after housemanship. This is also known as the 4th and 5th HO posting. It was 3 month posting in either medicine/paediatric or surgery/ortho depending on which that you did not do during the 1 year housmanship as above. After completing the 4th and 5th postings, you will be posted to rural or district as a Medical Officer.
1c) Since 2008
Since 2008, housemanship training has been extended to 2 years. This means you will be completing all the major postings before being transferred out.
2) Life as a Houseofficer (HO)
When I did my Housemanship in 1990s, there were only 2-3 HOs in each ward of 40-60 patients. It was a tough life. You are the front liners who will see the patients for the first time upon admission. You’re supposed to take the medical history of the patient, do a physical examination, take blood investigations and come to a diagnosis. In fact, you’re supposed to start the initial treatment and management of the patients. There won’t be any medical officers or specialist in the ward. Most of them will come only in the afternoon to see the patients. This means, you’re the boss in the ward and the life of the patient is in your hands! It is a very stressful life, where on top of all the existing patients in the ward, you also need to see all the new admissions. The new admissions can be about 20-30 admissions/day, divided between each of the 2-3 houseofficers.
You start your work around 7.00am everyday especially if you are doing medical or O&G postings by taking the ward patient’s blood. Then, you will be doing the clinical rounds with the Medical Officers and Specialist of the ward. After finishing the rounds, you need to carry out all the orders by the specialist and at the same time, clerk all the new admissions! You also have to run down to radiology department to get urgent appointments, go to the blood bank to get urgent bloods, trace results urgently etc etc. Of course, you may not finish your work by 5pm. If you are “On Call” on that day, you need to con’t your work throughout the night till the next morning 8am. And now, don’t think you can go back to your room and rest! You are supposed to con’t with the work on the next day as usual! You are basically a professional coolie!
As a HO, you need to do at least 10 calls a month, which means once every 3 days. I have even done continuous day calls before, never saw sunlight for 2-3 days! For each calls, we were paid RM 20 then, now it has gone up to RM 100 since 2006 ( please read my MMA article on “Government doctors: Past, Present and Future”). I use to say that you can earn better by working in Mc Donald’s!
Whatever said and done, I enjoyed my Housemanship simply because I had good colleagues who helped each other very well. I also enjoyed learning all the skills and procedures during my housemanship. Housemanship is the only time where you can learn all the necessary skills in doing procedures like CVP line, Chest tube, Peritoneal Dialysis etc etc. Thus, as I said before, if you became a doctor for passion and to help people, then you will enjoy housemanship. But if you choose medicine for glory, good life and money, it is during this time that you will realise that medicine is not for you. That’s the reason why, many will get a mental breakdown during housemanship. They never expected their life to be like this! Many still think that being a doctor is sitting in a clinic and seeing “cough and cold” cases. Being a doctor is more than that.
Of course, the situation has changed recently. With the tremendous increase in the number of doctors produced, we have almost 6-8 HOs in each ward of 40 patients. In fact, surgical department with 2 wards, sometimes has more than 40 HOs!! The workload will definitely be lower but you will lose out in your training. How many procedures would you be able to learn with so many of you in a ward? I have even seen some HOs leaving the medical department without doing a single CVP line or Chest tube. Only those who are eager to learn will succeed. The rests are just given a license to kill……… sorry to say!
3) Rules and Regulation during Housemanship
There are few rules and regulations that you need to know as a HO. You will be given a log book for each posting. This log book needs to be signed off at the end of each posting by the department. The Head of Department (HOD) has the right to extend the training if he/she feels that you are not competent enough to be released. The extension is for a minimum of 3 months but can go on as long as the HOD feels adequate. Unfortunately, many of the HOD take the easy way out. No matter how incompetent the HO is, they usually let them go as they feel that it will not make any difference in extending their postings and of course less problem to the department. To me, I think it is very selfish for some of the HOD to think like this. Remember, these doctors are the one who is going to be released to the community with a “license to kill”.
As a government servant, you will be given 25 days annual leave. As a HO, these 25 days will be divided equally between the 3 postings that you do in a year. Any extra leaves including MCs, maternity leave and emergency leaves are considered as an extension of housemanship training. For example, if you take 1 week MC during a medical posting, your medical posting will be extended by one week, unless you want to deduct your annual leave allocated for that particular posting. This is one of the reasons why I always advise doctors/soon to be doctors not to get married during housemanship. Pregnancy will not reduce your workload as you need to do the same number of calls with the rest and it will only extend your housemanship even longer.
Next, Part 2: Life as a medical officer and rural postings……………………………