Brain drain is everywhere, says DG

Cause for concern: Dr Noor Hisham said the migration of health professionals was fuelled by many reasons, including economic factors. — LOW BOON TAT/The Star

PETALING JAYA: While it is true that the healthcare sector is facing a brain drain, it is not the only profession facing the problem.

The long-standing issue of brain drain affects every skilled employment sector in Malaysia, say Health Minister Dr Zaliha Mustafa and director-general Tan Sri Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah.

They were responding to a statement by Prof Datuk Dr Adeeba Kamarulzaman that Universiti Malaya lost at least 30 of its best and brightest medical graduates to Singapore every year.

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Dr Adeeba, a Professor of Medicine and Infectious Diseases at Universiti Malaya’s Medical Faculty, said the lack of posts and clear training pathways caused doctors, nurses and allied health professionals to look abroad for employment or better opportunities.

A male nurse working in Singapore agrees.

He said working in the republic provided him the opportunity to gain more experience.

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“Singapore practises the international standard and if I want to find jobs in Australia, New Zealand or even the United Kingdom, it will be easy for me,” he said, adding that nurses in Singapore undergo procedure competency courses frequently.

Dr Noor Hisham, however, said a macro view was needed on the issue.

“Let’s not have a microscopic view. Look at the bigger picture. The issue of brain drain cuts across the workforce.

“It’s across all specialties, not only in the medical field.”

On complaints by medical students of poor working conditions, bullying, low wages as well as inadequate training and career opportunities for their reasons to migrate overseas, Dr Noor Hisham said there was no guarantee that migration could be stopped even if all these issues ceased.

“Perhaps a public engagement can be started on this global phenomenon of migration. Can we control it? Can we stop it? Can we reverse it?” Dr Noor Hisham said yesterday.

He said the migration of health professionals was fuelled by many reasons, including economic factors.

“Singapore’s currency is three times better than ours. Many Johoreans cross over to work in Singapore, so can the same argument be used?

“Even Singapore’s healthcare system has a similar issue with its citizens migrating elsewhere like to Australia.

“How do we strike the balance of sustainability?” Dr Noor Hisham asked.

He added that Malaysia too, had benefited from workforce migration, with maids and construction workers coming here.

He also reiterated that a public engagement could be done for more people to weigh in on the matter.

Dr Zaliha said brain drain was definitely a loss to Malaysia but insisted that the right skills be inculcated to ensure the rakyat continue to receive highest quality services.

She said she was aware of the recommendations of the Human Resources for Health (HRH) Strategy of her predecessors.

These include recruitment of doctors, improving the quality of their training with clearer career pathways, improving their welfare and working conditions and fairer distribution throughout the nation.

“The Health White Paper, which is in the process of being developed, will look into the setting up of a Health Commission that will be responsible for several issues, including healthcare service development,” she said.

Malaysian Medical Association (MMA) president Dr Muruga Raj Rajathurai said the government needed to take steps to provide better career prospects in terms of career advancement and remuneration to curb the medical brain drain.

“Better pay is among the main reasons the junior doctors are leaving to work abroad. It doesn’t help that the cost of living has gone up in the country.

“Issues such as the contract system, permanent positions and even burnout need to be resolved or doctors will lose hope in the system and leave for greener pastures,” he said yesterday.

National Association of Human Resources Malaysia (Pusma) president Zarina Ismail, who runs a recruitment agency, said her firm found employment for qualified Malaysians such as nurses, doctors, lecturers, and oil and gas professionals to work overseas.

Zarina said they chose to go overseas for better salaries and job prospects.

“Many of the nurses say they don’t make enough here to have any savings at the end of the month.

“That is why they choose to look for jobs in countries like Saudi Arabia and other Middle Eastern countries, where they can earn RM12,000 monthly,” she said.

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