‘Resolve issues with specialists training fast’

PETALING JAYA: With Malaysia already facing a shortage of specialists, the complications related to the specialist training programme may only make it worse.

Many junior doctors have voiced concerns on the limited offering for the Hadiah Latihan Persekutuan (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 were 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%.

The medical fraternity has now called for issues related to the specialists training programme to be ironed out so that there will be more specialists.

Speaking at a recent MMA townhall entitled “Specialising in Malaysia”, eminent doctor Prof Datuk Dr Adeeba Kamarulzaman said instead of “parallel pathway versus the Master’s programme”, it would be best to unify the training programmes under one umbrella.

She also noted that it might be time to do away with the HLP and come up with a new system to support medical officers during their training.

“We need to think of a new paradigm,” said the chief executive officer of Monash University Malaysia and Pro Vice-Chancellor and president (Malaysia) of Monash University Australia.

Dr Adeeba said it would take an average of 14 to 15 years for a junior doctor to complete sub- specialist training, compared to about eight years in Australia.

“(This) is completely ridiculous,” she said.

Dr Adeeba proposed for an overhaul to the system with a proper governing structure that would provide oversight and combine both the Health and Higher Education ministries.

She said the government must also invest in digitalisation for the rotation system so that doctors know beforehand of their future postings as part of their training programme. This, she said, would help them plan their lives better.

MMA section conerning house officers, medical officers and specialists honorary secretary Dr Sean Thum said fewer specialists would mean that patients would have to wait longer and that procedures would have to be postponed or delayed, thus reducing the quality of the rakyat’s life. Existing healthcare staff would also be engulfed by more stress and burden, thus reducing their productivity, he added.

“The current challenges stem from a lack of collaboration among key stakeholders such as the Malaysian Medical Council, Health Ministry and Public Service Department.

“It is essential for these entities to convene and incorporate input from relevant stakeholders, including trainees, to formulate effective solutions,” he said.

“The parallel pathway serves as a valuable complement to the Malaysian Master’s programme, contributing to the production of specialised doctors for the benefit of the Malaysian public.

“Enhancing and fortifying the parallel pathway programme is imperative for addressing these challenges,” he added.

When contacted, Health Ministry sources said the issue was being addressed.

Last month, Health Minister Datuk Seri Dr Dzulkefly Ahmad had said that resolving the problems related to the Parallel Pathway Training, or the specialists’ training programme, was part of his 100-day key performance index (KPI).

He said he had met almost all “feuding” medical entities and eminent healthcare practitioners on the issue.

“Having listened to all, I am positive that we shall find an amicable closure.

“Again, l stress, never lose sight of the forest for the trees. Even in dire need to increase the number of specialists, we must not compromise on our quality,” he added.

Dzulkefly said it was not in the ministry or the nation’s interest to abolish the Parallel Pathway programme.

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