KUALA LUMPUR, July 17 — A junior doctors’ group today urged the government to provide financial aid for contract doctors to pursue their specialist training since they’re not eligible for a full government scholarship.
The Malaysian Medics International (MMI) said that financial assistance from the National Higher Education Fund Corporation (PTPTN) should be made available for contract doctors who cannot get the Hadiah Latihan Persekutuan (HLP), a full scholarship by the Ministry of Health (MOH) provided only to permanent medical officers to pursue specialisation in local public universities.
“It is costly for doctors to undergo speciality training without assistance, more so when training opportunities are provided by institutions outside Malaysia.
“A conservative estimation would see the person paying over RM15,000 in examination fees alone, without taking into account course materials, workshop/ training attendances, and also travel fees to the examination location,” said MMI president Dr Sean Thum in a statement.
MMI also noted that postgraduate specialty training for doctors requires a minimum of four years, which begins after the completion of housemanship.
This means that even if doctors are able to pay for their own specialist training, they may not be able to complete it as their two-year compulsory government service falls short of the required training period.
“Our junior doctors are currently provided with a five-year contract package (a three-year contract with an option of a two-year extension). Junior doctors begin their careers as house officers and commonly complete their housemanship training within two years and subsequently take on the role and responsibility of medical officers,” Dr Thum mentioned.
“Hence, we urge the government to consider longer contract tenures to allow completion of postgraduate specialty training for junior doctors.”
Recently, Health Minister Dr Adham Baba said contract medical officers can finance their own specialist study and go abroad as they’re currently not eligible for the HLP.
MMI also requested MOH to provide statistics on the numbers of specialists under various specialties that are currently available, and the number of specialists required by the country.
“We often read about lamentations on the shortage of, for example, psychiatrists, oncologists, and cardiologists in the nation. By providing such information, our junior doctors could direct their specialisation efforts towards specialties which are lacking in numbers,” Dr Thum said.
Besides that, MMI emphasised the need to set up transparent and standardised admission criteria for postgraduate specialty training of doctors to indicate the nation’s capacity to accommodate postgraduate specialty training.
The junior doctors’ group also called on the government to set up a national health care scheme. Malaysia’s dual health care system currently comprises public and private health facilities, with almost equal spending from both sectors.
“Although a public-private partnership is welcomed, the reality is that a major portion of health care provision is provided by the public health care sector.
“Without the introduction of a national health care scheme to balance service provision, it is not practical to propose for the private sector’s involvement in postgraduate specialty training,” MMI said.
CodeBlue reported previously that 1,500 contract housemen were only offered a two-year contract as medical officers on the UD41 grade to complete their compulsory government service from May 2020 to May 2022, without any extension.
“Their salaries remain stagnant at the UD41 pay grade, which is approximately RM8,000 less per year compared to that received by permanent medical officers despite them taking on the same responsibilities and workload,” Dr Thum stated.
It is to be noted that contract doctors who were maintained on the UD41 civil service grade during their two-year mandatory service with the government suffered a basic salary differential of RM664 monthly compared to their higher-paid UD44 permanent counterparts, which equalled RM7,968 a year, excluding yearly increments. UD41 contract medical officers also earn less than their juniors on the same pay grade, as the former lose the RM600 monthly flexi allowance earned by house officers.
Dr Adham told Tangga Batu MP Rusnah Aluai (PKR) in a written Parliament reply last Monday that the current 23,928 permanent medical officers who have not yet pursued specialist training are sufficient if extra specialists are needed in MOH.
MMI described that announcement as demoralising and said junior doctors are being sidelined.
“We believe that the vision of the MOH in achieving a holistic and sustainable health care system in Malaysia, in the long run, can be materialised by implementing a transparent and proper employment system, including the employment of junior doctors,” MMI told the government.
University Malaya Medical Centre physician Dr Tan Guo Jeng mentioned in 2018 that generally, one requires seven years to be a fully registered doctor and more than 10 years to become a specialist.