MMA: Let housemen, medical students join Covid-19 fight


Dr Tharmaseelan: There are doctors waiting for their postings for months - they should be quickly recruited to begin their service to the nation.

THERE is no time to waste in a crisis.

Urging the Health Ministry to pull out all the stops to help the nation’s frontliners fight the pandemic, the Malaysian Medical Association (MMA) has suggested that some 1,000 of the nation’s medical graduates still waiting for their postings be mobilised together with medical and nursing students, as well as medical assistants, with basic medical knowledge and training to help on the ground with contact tracing as soon as possible.

Worried that the country’s healthcare system will crumble under the weight of the high number of Covid-19 cases, MMA president Prof Datuk Dr Subramaniam Muniandy said all available hands need to be on deck as there is an acute shortage of manpower at the district health departments and government clinics.

“At a time when cases are at an all-time high, we must look at every possible avenue to enhance our healthcare system and support our medical frontliners,” he said.

Speaking to StarEdu, he said there are at least more than 1,000 medical graduates waiting to be absorbed into the medical system.

Last March, Health Minister Datuk Seri Dr Adham Baba said the ministry would place housemen in public hospitals nationwide to support medical staff, in particular doctors, who have their hands full due to Covid-19.

“These housemen will help ease the burden faced by doctors and specialists that focus on Covid-19, and they will also help make hospital operations run smoother.

“The housemen, however, will also have to go through an induction course for five days, that includes the handling of Covid-19 elements,” he said.

Final year medical students and housemen awaiting their postings, Dr Subramaniam said, can also work in non-Covid wards.

This, he said, could be a win-win situation for all parties involved as it allows students to familiarise themselves with ward work, and saves time in training them in the future.

“Houseman would not have to wait any longer for their placements, and with these two groups helping out in non-Covid wards, more doctors can work in the Covid wards, thus relieving their overworked colleagues.”

Bringing housemen-in-waiting and students onboard, he added, would provide them with invaluable practical training.

“They will, however, need to be vaccinated and there must be collaboration with the Higher Education Ministry before this can happen.“Final year medical students could assist doctors in non-Covid wards to familiarise themselves with daily hospital duties before starting housemanship,” he said, adding that medical students who have yet to be registered with the Malaysian Medical Council because of technical issues should also be asked to help out.

The ministry, he said, could develop a training pathway for house officers where there is a separate unit formed for final year students to register for housemanship and be interviewed right after completing their degrees.

To save on administrattive costs, these student should also be allowed to request for placements to speed up the housemanship process, he said. Consider this

The advantages of roping in these groups, Dr Subramaniam said, are multifold.

It prepares medical students for their housemanship training and can be part of their practical training, he said.

“Additionally, medical graduates waiting for their posting won’t lose touch with their practical skills and while waiting, this could also serve as good revision time for them.

“The idea of being a doctor includes helping people.

“The chance to assist in a pandemic may never come by again. Experiences you take away from a situation like this will make you a better doctor,” he said.

While some junior doctors may be overwhelmed by the long working hours and sacrifices the job entails, roping them in now can make it easier for them to adjust to the Malaysian hospital system before their housemanship posting.Dr Subramaniam, however, acknowledged that proper planning and great care is needed before students can be brought in to help in real world settings.

Medicolegal, insurance, remuneration and administrative issues, which may entail additional paperwork and costs, must be thoroughly studied, he said.

“Students must also be well trained, assessed and supervised to avoid any mishaps or casualties,” he said.

Former MMA and the Medico-Legal Society of Malaysia president Prof Datuk Dr N.K.S. Tharmaseelan said since the Covid-19 outbreak, many have stepped up to help.

A group known as the MMA Volunteer Corps, he said, sent a list of 30 senior and experienced general practitioners, retired specialists and government doctors to the ministry to volunteer their expertise and to assist the frontliners.

Doctors who have been waiting for their postings for months should be quickly recruited to begin their service to the nation, he added.

“There are also many housemen who, after their two years of housemanship, have had their services terminated for unexplained reasons.

“These housemen could have been retained and had their services extended,” he said.

But fast tracking final year medical students to become doctors by enlisting them to help the frontliners, is not something Dr Tharmaseelan, a professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Melaka-Manipal Medical College, is in favour of.

“They have their training schedules, examinations and various other postings to consider. Covid-19 is not the only disease they need to know about.

“There are numerous different cases to learn about and to treat,” he said, adding that the pandemic has placed many constraints on training and teaching.

Enlisting “raw manpower” such as students, to fight Covid-19 will not ease the country’s healthcare burden nor will it be useful for the students themselves in the long run as their training would have been compromised, he added.

“These students would have missed their online classes and clinical training because of the pandemic.

“They still have so much to learn. Sending them out now would hinder their already compromised training.

“The experienced ones are aplenty so why enlist students? We must ensure that they graduate as fully qualified doctors, not as half-baked professionals,” he said.

Medical Practitioners Coalition Association of Malaysia president Dr Raj Kumar Maharajah said doctors who have graduated and are waiting for their posting should be the first ones to be absorbed into the system to assist in the non-Covid wards and patients. “There are many waiting to start work. Final year medical students need to concentrate on their final exams.

“There is no hurry to absorb them into the system as they may pose a danger not only to themselves but also to the patients.

“At a time when we are looking to curb the virus spread, it’s best not to have too many people walking around the hospital,” he said.

Dr Raj Kumar explained that to be legally able to treat and help out in the wards, these students first need to be registered with the Malaysian Medical Council as full fledged doctors.Final year students should be asked to help only if hospitals are really shorthanded and are facing an emergency, he opined.

“We have not reached that stage yet. We can revisit this idea when the time comes, if it does,” he said.

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