SIX to 13 months – that’s the average waiting time for fresh medical graduates to be offered a grade UD41 housemanship placement in the country.
Due to the time gap, many of these graduates end up holding part-time jobs, or doing charity work in the interim, said Universiti Malaya (UM) medical faculty deputy dean of undergraduate studies Prof Dr Muhammad Yazid Jalaludin.
“The jobs include working as research, clinic or pharmacy assistants, and temporary teachers,” he said.
He added that these graduates may also opt to study a non-clinical master’s degree such as in medical science and public health.
The scenario is backed by a study conducted on 114 UM medical graduates from the 2019 cohort.
According to the study, 45.6% of the graduates took on the role of assistants, either working on research projects or at clinics and pharmacies; while 6.1% became teachers, and 5.3% and 2.6% found jobs in the service and e-hailing industries, respectively.
In addition, 5.3% of the graduates pursued non-clinical master’s degrees, while close to 15% were unemployed.
Similar results turned up in a survey of 51 Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia (UKM) medical graduates from the 2020 cohort.
The survey revealed that while 27.5% of the respondents were unemployed, 29.4% worked as research assistants, and 7.8% each took on roles as clinic assistants and as volunteers at Covid-19 vaccination centres.
Others fell into categories which included being volunteers at non-governmental organisations, pharmacy assistants, tutors, caregivers, locum medical assistants, and workers in the service and e-hailing sectors.
Unlike their seniors, these medical graduates were not able to seek opportunities for housemanship training in Singapore – where only medical degrees from UM and UKM are recognised by its medical council, said Prof Yazid.
He shared that while the Singapore Medical Council accepted graduates from both universities as house officers in the past, only medical officers have been recruited since 2017.
UKM medical faculty deputy dean of undergraduate studies Prof Dr Roslina Abdul Manap said the long waiting time for housemanship placements could affect the confidence of young doctors with regard to their on-the-job performance.
“There is anticipatory anxiety in the weeks leading up to the start of their housemanship postings, and a lot of performance anxiety once they start work.
“There is also the stress of being first-time workers, which entails dealing with logistics and personal arrangements like moving interstate and away from familiar support systems,” she added.
Prof Roslina, however, is confident that the orientation and induction programmes run by the Health Ministry will help mitigate the anxiety of these house officers, and prepare them for their duties.
While medical students at public universities enjoy highly subsidised fees amounting to around RM15,000, those at private universities – many relying on loans – have to pay up to RM500,000.
Addressing the repayment concerns, Prof Yazid said graduates have the option of applying for a deferment.
For the country to achieve developed nation status, Prof Roslina stressed on the need to create more opportunities for training and specialisation.
“Malaysia is currently facing a shortage of specialists with only four specialists to 10,000 citizens as of June 30, 2020, compared to the recommended average of 14 specialists to 10,000 citizens by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development in 2018,” she said.
She added that the deficit is higher in rural areas and the eastern states of Malaysia, and is expected to increase even further if medical officers are unable to pursue their postgraduate studies due to their contract status.
With declining fertility rates and rising life expectancy, Prof Roslina emphasised that Malaysia will soon become an ageing nation which requires more doctors, specialists and healthcare workers.
“We need to improve the doctor-population ratio and more so, the specialist-population ratio,” she said.
Both Prof Roslina and Prof Yazid urge medical graduates to use the waiting time to upskill themselves in other fields.
“Given the current uncertainties in job security and career advancement opportunities, having an additional skill or qualification is seriously worth considering to gain an advantage,” said Prof Roslina.
“Medical graduates should also find ways to continuously update their medical knowledge, in preparation for their work,” Prof Yazid said, adding that the number of UM medical graduates over the past decade hovers between 120 and 170 yearly.
Wong, 21, is a medical student at Universiti Malaya, Kuala Lumpur. He is a participant of the BRATs Young Journalist Programme run by The Star’s Newspaper-in-Education (Star-NiE) team. Throughout the year-long programme, participants aged between 14 and 22 from all across the country experience life as journalists, contributing ideas, conducting interviews, and completing writing assignments. They get to earn bylines, attend workshops, and extend their social networks. To join Star-NiE’s online youth community, go to facebook.com/niebrats.