Making the cut in medicine

  • Education
  • Sunday, 26 Mar 2006

Are you considering a career in medicine? Malaysian Medical Council member and Malaysian Medical Association past president DATUK DR LEE YAN SAN offers some useful pointers. 

RECENTLY, there has been quite a lot of news about students who hope to pursue medical programmes but denied the opportunity to do so. The issue of recognition of medical schools by the Malaysian Medical Council (MMC) has also been raised. Evidently, the medical programme is still a much sought-after course of study. Here, I would like to offer my personal view of what students should consider before they select medicine as their choice career.  

Entrance prerequisites 

Selection of candidates for entry to medical school is very important as there are limited places available. While good academic results are important, these alone are no guarantee of good doctors. 

Very stringent screening (via interviews) to find out more about the personality and psychology of the applicants is essential to ensure that the medical schools take in only committed students who are likely to devote themselves to medicine in the future. Candidates applying to be part of the medical profession should be devoted, caring and, most importantly, non-business like.  

Medicine is a noble profession but the work is tough and doctors must be caring, committed and prepared to workirregular hours. – Filepic

They should also have a keen interest in the medical profession. Those who had dreams of becoming doctors from an early age should be encouraged. No one should take up medicine just for monetary gain as the medical profession is no longer that lucrative. There are rich doctors but they are more the exception than the rule nowadays.  

I understand there are doctors who run their clinics like money-making businesses. These doctors may do unethical things such as selling drugs over the counter without examining patients, issuing medical certificates indiscriminately, and even allowing their clinical assistants to perform duties they are not qualified for. These doctors are just fortunate that nobody has reported them to the MMC for they will certainly face disciplinary action if found guilty.  

Parental influence 

Students who wish to take up medicine as a career must be aware of the sacrifices doctors make, including long working hours, interrupted sleep, and having to deal with life-saving situations on a regular basis. Listening and dealing with people’s problems all the time can be depressing too.  

There are students who voluntarily drop out of medical school when they realise it is not the profession for them. When I was training housemen, some confided that they did not really wish to become doctors. They studied medicine only because their parents wanted them to. In such situations, how can they become good doctors?  

Parents often like their children to be doctors for prestige reasons. I can understand this as parents want to see their children grow up successful and earning well.  

There is no harm in wanting your children to be doctors as long as you do not force them into it. Rather than insist children enter certain professions, I feel parents should only guide and encourage children to do what they want. Encourage them to become doctors only if this is what they want to do. 

Doctors must also be willing to serve in rural areas. Malaysia is not really short of doctors – we are only short in the government sector and in rural areas. The problem is therefore to find ways to encourage doctors willing to continue serving in the public sector and the rural areas. 


The personality of the students who aspire to become doctors is indeed important. Are they intelligent and patient? Are they good listeners? Can they concentrate on a problem? Are they mentally and physically strong? Some may be intelligent and even hardworking but bad at making decisions or not practical in their approach. I remember a top student who was awarded a scholarship to study medicine overseas. He failed his exams in his first year and did badly subsequently. This shows that hard work and intelligence alone are not enough to ensure that one can graduate as a doctor. Doctors need to have analytical minds too, so that they may analyse and understand things.  

I also had another friend who secured a place in medical school by passing the entrance examinations after preparing for it in just a month. I was really impressed. However, during the medical programme, he did well only in the pre-clinical years. Once he started the clinical part of the course and had to talk and be close to patients, he started to slack and absent himself from clinical practice. He failed the final medical examinations three times before he eventually passed. This goes to illustrate that some people are just not cut out for the medical profession because of their inability to socialise or relate to other people.  

So before anyone decides to take up medicine, think carefully. Ask yourself these questions. Is this what you really want to do? Is helping people your main desire? Are you willing to sacrifice your time and sleep for patients? Are you willing to work odd hours? Does dealing with sick people and blood trouble you? Are you a good listener? Are you patient? Are you generous? And most important of all, are you non-materialistic?  

Cultural adjustment 

Another point to note is that students who study medicine overseas often do their internships in the country where they graduate. Many stay back in the country in which they study to specialise before returning home. Sometimes, students who stay overseas for a long time may be so influenced by Western culture that they do not wish to return home to take care of their aged parents, as is the norm in Asia.  

It is important that parents realise this and are comfortable about this so that they do not have regrets later.  

I strongly feel that Malaysians who go overseas to study must be patriotic enough to want to come back to serve our country. However, if you decide to emigrate after having come back and served your own country for some time, no one can fault you for you have at least made an attempt to serve your country.  

Some of my friends who stayed back in foreign countries regretted doing so but some have happily settled down overseas. I do however agree that there is a very strong temptation to stay back in a country if we have lived there for a long time, especially when we are young and impressionable as we usually are in our undergraduate years.  

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