Let doctors decide if they need HLP to specialise, says MMA

PETALING JAYA: The government should let Medical Officers (MO) decide if they wish to apply for the Hadiah Latihan Persekutuan (HLP) scholarship to specialise through the parallel pathway, says the Malaysian Medical Association (MMA).

MMA president Dr Azizan Abdul Aziz said under the present system, all MO in public healthcare, are required to apply for the HLP government scholarship regardless of the pathway they choose when it comes to specialise.

The two pathways are the MMED local masters or the parallel Royal Colleges programme.

"The current system is limited and the HLP should not be mandatory for the parallel pathway, as there are doctors who are willing to self-fund their specialist training in view of the lack of available openings, uncertainty and limitations in attaining the HLP," she said.

Dr Azizan added in a statement on Tuesday (Feb 6) that the MMA has been told that doctors who qualify and have applied for specialist studies are waiting between one to four years for the HLP to enter their specialisation training.

"Such issues are affecting the production of specialists the country so desperately needs," she said.

Dr Azizan added that the country is currently experiencing an acute shortage in specialists across the board and raised concerns that the government could provide enough in time to come.

"There are less than 13,000 specialists serving the country with only around 9,000 serving in public healthcare," said Dr Azizan.

She added that over 70% of the population depend on the public healthcare system for their medical needs.

"Malaysia’s population-to-specialist ratio is currently at 10,000 to four, which is starkly different from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) average of 10,000 to 14.3," said Dr Azizan.

She added that the government has set a target of 28,000 specialists by 2030.

"With the current number of specialists being produced, at an estimated of around 1,000 each year, it is unlikely that we will achieve the target," said Dr Azizan.

Many junior doctors have voiced concerns on the limited offering for the HLP scholarship, as well as the long wait for entry into the parallel pathway programme.

Junior doctors will require the HLP to complete the necessary rotations for their training, without which they will not be able to apply for specialist registration through the National Specialist Register.

This is required if they are to train as specialists under a parallel pathway programme instead of taking up a Master’s degree in medicine.

A survey conducted by the Malaysian Medical Association (MMA) on 393 medical officers from Oct 15 to 28 showed that a majority of junior doctors surveyed favoured a parallel pathway programme over taking up a Master’s, with 344 respondents or over 80%.

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