Glut of medical officers in the country must be addressed: MMA

GEORGE TOWN: Malaysians must come to accept that there is now a glut of medical officers in the country as many parents tend to prompt their children to enter the field due to the prestige, standing and wealth it enjoys.

It is from such high hopes of parents that have driven an artificial demand for doctors, but it is something which both the public and private sectors cannot accommodate in the long – term, said the Malaysian Medical Association (MMA).

Its president Dr Ravindran Naidu said that there should be an acknowledgement from all quarters that a glut has ensued or it will happen within the next five years.

He was responding to a report quoting Penang Health, Rural Development, Agriculture and Agro-Based Industries committee chairperson Dr Afif Bahardin that medical graduates are forced to drive for ride-hailing services or worked in fast food outlets before waiting for intake into the public hospitals.

Each houseman is required to serve two years in government public hospitals as part of their requirements to become a recognised general practitioner.

To this, Dr Ravindran said that the medical fraternity recognises this issue, but stressed that the waiting period is between eight and 12 months only; not over one year as some reports have

"Working as Grab drivers or in fast food restaurants are necessary as many graduates need to service their student loans. It is happening."

The government hospitals can only accommodate up to 10,000 house officers per year, which is relatively high for a country with a population base of 32 million.

There are 42 public and private medical colleges, and they produced up to 4,000 greenhorn doctors per year, while an additional 1,000 come from those studying medicine overseas.

"That makes it 5,000 fresh doctors per year entering the medical sector."

It is a high number to comprehend, and by 2021, the government can only handle up to 70% of such graduates, leaving 2,000 to 3,000 to fend for themselves, he said in an interview.

Building more hospitals or hastening the entry of doctors into specialization fields is not sustainable, said Dr Ravindran.

"There is a need to retune for a balance in the medical profession. Although there is a glut of medical officers, there is an acute shortage of specialists, but it takes years to produce one."

Dr Ravindran also noted that the Health Ministry was trying to address the issue by ensuring that housemen sign contract agreements with the government, and to hasten the entry of doctors to
postgraduate studies.

In the past the turnover rate of housemen was high; some 30% drop – out because they cannot take the pressure or it was never their desire to become doctors, as the hours are long, and there is the dealing with the bereavement.

"But on the plus side, there is also the saving of lives."

The turnover rate has now been reduced to 17% due to the contract obligations, but a glut will persist, and it is specifically in Malaysia, said Dr Ravindran.