More than just doctors in medicine

PETALING JAYA: While many school leavers are unhappy about not receiving an offer to study medicine at a public university, experts are saying there are other areas in healthcare that offers various rewarding career opportunities.

Not only are these alternative paths facing a significant shortage of professionals, they also offer good earning and learning potential.

As the ageing population continues to grow, demand for occupational therapy professionals is growing, says Perdana University dean of occupational therapy Prof Nathan Vytialingam.

“Many private sector hospitals that mainly deal with developmental disabilities, autism and ADHD in kids are seeking occupational therapists,” he said.

According to Prof Nathan, occupational therapy is a client-centred health profession concerned with promoting health and well-being through occupation. The primary goal of occupational therapy is to enable people to participate in the activities of everyday life.

Earlier this month, the results of applications to study in public universities for the 2023/2024 academic session were announced, with the appeal submissions ending on Sept 16.

As in previous years, many Sijil Tinggi Persekolahan Malaysia (STPM) or equivalent leavers with perfect scores were denied admission to medical school.

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Earlier in June, Higher Education Minister Datuk Seri Mohamed Khaled Nordin said the admission quota of medical students allowed by the Health Ministry was 4,820 per year, but the actual number of graduates was lower at about 4,000 per year.

He added that 2,401 medical graduates were produced in 2020, 3,132 in 2021 and 3,934 in 2022.

The estimated production of local medical graduates for the next three years is 3,934 per year, with 2,281 from public and 1,653 from private higher educational institutions.

“Students must understand that for those who do not get into medicine, there are always other opportunities in the field of health sciences and rehab. Speech therapy is also an example of a highly-sought healthcare profession,” said Prof Nathan.

“These are the fields of the future, and once you get into occupational therapy and obtain a clinical licence, you have the opportunity to move on and work wherever you want, or go for postgrad training to specialise in a specific area of interest,” he said.

The satisfaction in this profession, he said, comes from having rehabilitated somebody “back onto their feet and into the community”.

Prof Nathan said with more nursing homes being set up, a greater number of occupational therapists are needed to manage and care for older people.

He said the healthcare industry is more than just medicine and that there have been students with good grades, worthy of the medicine course, who chose to enter occupational therapy after finding out about its scope. He added that the starting salary of medical rehabilitation officers is RM2,429, while those in the private sector can earn up to RM3,500.

ALSO READ: Students can also explore public health and biomedical fields

Universiti Malaya Biomedical Imaging Department Emeritus Prof Dr Ng Kwan Hoong said the need for more professionals is on the rise in other healthcare sectors.“It is important to highlight to school leavers that there are opportunities to pursue other areas of healthcare besides medicine,” he said.

Dr Ng also emphasised the significance of clinical research, highlighting its important role in diagnosis, conducting essential research and conducting crucial laboratory work. He said this research is instrumental in the development of vaccines and medications for disease prevention.

UM Medicine Faculty dean Prof Dr April Camilla Roslani said that healthcare is a diverse ecosystem, which relies on collaboration of various stakeholders and fields.

“It includes hospital care, care in the community and home care, which involves public and private sectors,” she said, adding that generally, Malaysia is facing shortages in every area of healthcare.“It is important to understand that we do not work in silos. Thus, even if you have sufficient doctors, you might still not be able to provide adequate access to healthcare if there are shortages in the other team members,” she said.She said healthcare and healthcare-adjacent fields include medical doctors, nurses, dentists, pharmacists, allied health professionals (e.g. radiographers, physiotherapists, speech therapists, medical assistants, medical lab technicians, etc), scientists or researchers (academic or industry-related) and administrative staff.Dr April Camilla also said artificial intelligence (AI) is expected to have significant roles in healthcare in the near future.

However, there are many aspects of healthcare that cannot and should not be handled by AI.

“It is important that we develop AI experts from within the field of medicine who can bridge these worlds to ensure the humanistic aspects of healthcare are preserved,” she said.

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