KUALA LUMPUR, August 7 — A doctors’ group urged the government to release contract doctors on the Public Service Department (JPA) scholarship from its 10-year bond if their contracts are not extended during that period.
The Malaysian Medics International (MMI) said the contract system for medical officers was not in place when most of these JPA scholars accepted the scholarship that requires an average five to 10-year service in the public health sectors after completion of their scholarships. The contract system was introduced in 2017.
“With uncertainties surrounding the contract system, contract medical officers serving the bond are unable to pursue speciality training.
“This has put these medical officers in a tight position whereby they are unable to break their bond with JPA, while they are also financially incapable of paying for their postgraduate training,” MMI, an organisation led by medical students, said in a statement.
Alor Setar MP Chan Ming Kai, during his debate in Parliament on July 29, urged the government to reduce the 10-year bond for contract doctors on JPA scholarships, as contract doctors are unable to continue specialist training during their bonded years of service in government hospitals, but cannot quit either to join the private sector.
MMI urged JPA and the Ministry of Health (MOH) to consider three recommendations: the first one is a release from the bond with no monetary compensation for JPA in the event that no further contract or an extension can be provided by the government to JPA scholars to serve in a public hospital.
The doctors’ group acknowledged that the government has taken the steps to assist in the servicing of their bond with the introduction of the Scholarship Talent Attraction and Retention (STAR)-Talentcorp initiative.
But this poses other issues as specialisation training can only be done either through the local master’s programme, which contract doctors are not eligible for as they do not qualify for the Hadiah Latihan Persekutuan (HLP) scholarship, or the external pathway which requires training to be done in certain government accredited institutions, most of which are public hospitals.
MMI’s second recommendation to MOH and JPA is to provide transparency and clarity of terms in the scholarship and loan contract.
“There is ambiguity surrounding the repayment of JPA scholarships and loans. Additionally, there were no clear terms provided in any contracts regarding this repayment.
“Recent undergraduates (who are JPA scholars from the 2016 batch) from other fields have recently been informed to partially repay their loan while working in the public sector. The only thing that may have alluded scholars to this situation was the mention that the loan will be converted to a scholarship and exempted from paying back if they work with the government after graduation for the agreed duration stated in the contract.”
The third recommendation given by MMI is to allow contract doctors sufficient time to get a job before warranting payback of the loan.
MMI pointed out that JPA scholars under the new loan contract since 2016 are required to pay back their loan within six months of completing their undergraduate studies, or on employment, whichever first, but the current waiting period for housemanship averages from four to 10 months.
“This is illogical as there is gravely insufficient time given to secure a job within the public health care sector, as the housemanship post availability varies largely depending on the government,” said MMI.
“If the government is unable to provide a job for the medical undergraduates within those six months, medical undergraduates should not be forced to repay the loan. This will be extremely challenging and near impossible for fresh medical graduates who required the loan to pursue their medical degree in the first place. We hope that JPA would allocate a minimum of 12 months for JPA scholars to secure a job.”
MMI urged JPA and MOH to address these burgeoning issues by engaging with all the relevant stakeholders based on their recommendations.
“We hope that with further improvement and clarity to the current system, our medical doctors will be able to contribute to the Malaysian health care system without being burdened by the constant woes for their financial wellbeing and job securities.”