Unspoken Challenge in Malaysia’s Healthcare System

Unspoken Challenge in Malaysia’s Healthcare System

By Adrian Chong

Introduction

Healthcare has already become the talking point across the globe with much emphasis on the delivery and standard of care that is provided for the general public. Accompanied by the global crisis of Covid-19, healthcare systems across the world have been put to the test or even crumble as patients scramble to seek treatment and isolation on top of the regular drug prescriptions and occurrence of consultations from the public (KPMG, n.d.). However, given the sudden disruption in the national healthcare systems, what are the different implications and potential root causes that can be amended to help alleviate the issue that is already present in healthcare systems? There are many different underlying issues that have been uncovered through the help of the pandemic. For example, the issue of lack of medical equipment and medical professionals has become the biggest stumbling block that not only delayed the delivery of treatment to patients in need but has undoubtedly become a source of concern when medical equipment faced severe shortages, leaving many patients that could have potentially been saved to be left aside until further aid is provided later down the road.

However, does Malaysia’s healthcare system also face similar challenges? Well, the truth is Malaysia does indeed face similar issues. However, something that needs to be taken into consideration is that in terms of the number of practicing healthcare professionals as well as those that are aspiring to become doctors and other specialists, there are plenty of doctors to go around. In fact, it can be said that there is an overwhelming supply of candidates that are ready to be doctors (Chung, 2021). But what is the hold-up? What was contributing to the congestion that caused Malaysia to suffer from the lack of healthcare professionals that has led to severe exhaustion, bodily pain, and crippling mental health issues that many of them face during the pandemic, especially with the surge of Covid-19 cases?

The Real Challenge

The real challenge actually comes from within the healthcare system in which the time is taken to train medical professionals is rather lengthy. For example, medical training and studies take approximately 5 years alone with tiring exams and mind-cramping assessments to test both cognitive and motor skills of candidates when diagnosing a patient. Not only that, but graduation is not the ending point for most healthcare professionals. Some professionals such as dentists don’t necessarily require a specialization (though recommended) for practice. However, professionals working in hospitals or within the private sector will require a certain level of specialization as the medical field is just too vast for one single person to study completely. Specializations such as cardiology, ophthalmology, and other specialties are all up for grabs which in turn require a sacrifice of another few years (depending on specialization).

Lastly, professionals will then have to go through another few years of housemanship to be guided under the supervision of professionals with years of experience before truly practicing medicine. In this case, most housemanship must be done in hospitals and will be assigned by the government as the governing body in Malaysia has the sole right to issue medical licenses. Following this, being allocated to a hospital for this practical experience also requires time, with some candidates waiting more than 1 year before successful allocation. All in all, this entire process will already take approximately 10 years before officially obtaining licensure for practicing medicine! When compared to a generic degree like a business degree, a business degree only requires 3 years without any specialization at all before officially practicing, this is almost one-third of how long a medical degree would take.

As a result of this long process, many candidates and applicants have decided not to continue their dream to become healthcare professionals. As such, Malaysia has recorded a significant shortfall of medical graduates with only 2,957 local medical graduates as compared to the average required medical graduates of 4,000 graduates per year (Yunus, 2021). This shortfall not only proves as a detrimental step that affects the quality of the national healthcare system but indirectly tells us of the ongoing trend in Malaysia, signaling the spiraling downfall of the healthcare system whereby what used to be a profession of high demand is now being disregarded by the younger generation.

Is There Any Way to Solve This?

Fortunately, there are many ways to solve this problem. One of which stems from the rate of conversion from contract doctors to permanent doctors but will require full support from the government and local authorities. Following the advancement of the pandemic, both permanent and contract doctors stood at the frontlines to join in the fight. Unfortunately, just as the name goes, contract doctors were not able to secure permanent placings in hospitals even though they have offered the same amount of service to those who were permanently employed. This truly became a demotivating factor that caused many contract doctors to resign from their current posts. Now, the government has been under fire (Yusof, 2021) for the lack of job security for such contract staff as the program of procuring contract staff that was initially used as a temporal fix to insufficient vacancies has continuously extended the contracts of many professionals, causing an approximate 35,000 healthcare workers to persistently renew their contract.

Given the circumstances of limited vacancies and the demand to expedite the process of housemanship, we believe that the government should relax the stringent requirements and allow candidates to practice medicine in other reputable hospitals and clinics to hasten their practical skills and to properly train themselves in any given situation so long as they are under the supervision of certified medical supervisors. Understanding that there is limited medical personnel that not only have to mentor candidates but also provide medical treatment to outpatients and more, we believe that the government should also tap into the “golden generation” of medical professionals to teach these passionate candidates (Radhi, 2020). At just a fraction of the cost and benefit of efficiency, the government could align with retired medical professionals to seek their willingness to temporarily coach students at different medical institutions. This not only offers a better way of expediting the housemanship process but is also beneficial for students as retired professionals have just as much experience (or even more)!

Conclusion

Overall, the landscape of Malaysia’s national healthcare is known to be reputable with its healthcare system, facilities, and treatment plans attracting patients from all over the world, particularly from Indonesia and other ASEAN countries. Even so, it’s important for Malaysia to also constantly look into different ways of resolving its internal and external issues while striving for excellence and improvements throughout its overall framework. Given that the lack of medical professionals in the healthcare system is degrading and negatively impacting other bright and promising candidates, we believe that the government will need to seriously consider the different suggestions laid out by medical practitioners while also listening to the voices of medical graduates. The healthcare system will be led by the younger generation and it’s our duty to foster this generation to achieve the potential that they can reach.

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