Medical students face BM paper dilemma

AS MBBS (Bachelor of Medicine, Bachelor of Surgery) students studying in different private medical colleges in Malaysia, we are currently faced with a dilemma that we wish to highlight to the Education Ministry and its new minister, Dr Maszlee Malik.

We are a group of pupils who graduated with Cambridge O-Levels at local international schools, where we studied, sat and obtained good grades for the compulsory Bahasa Malaysia paper, which, admittedly, is not of the same standard as the SPM Bahasa Malaysia paper.

The government’s requirement that students who intend to pursue a career in medicine here have to produce an SPM BM certificate in addition to the compulsory O-Level BM paper is a heavy burden for us who are already weighed down by the rigours of an MBBS degree.

We understand that in order to work in Malaysia, we need to be competent in the national language, and we do not take the requirement lightly. As future doctors, we cannot agree more that effective communication between physicians and patients is critical to providing optimal health care. If communication failures can happen when both parties speak the same language, we can quite imagine the failures that can result when they do not!

A doctor’s communication and interpersonal skills comprise the ability to gather information, mainly, to facilitate accurate diagnosis, counsel the patient appropriately, give therapeutic instructions, and establish a caring relationship; these, we recognise, are core clinical skills in the practice of medicine. Patients reporting good communication with their doctor are more likely to be satisfied with their care. More importantly, studies also indicate that when there’s an effective patient-doctor relationship, patients are more likely to share pertinent information for an accurate diagnosis of their problems, follow advice, and adhere to prescribed treatments.

Without a doubt we agree that good verbal skills in Malay is essential, but for us at this stage to have to return to SPM level rigours, taking tuition to conquer a language paper that requires not just fluency but lots of memorising as well, is highly taxing, especially considering the weight of our medical studies.

We studied in English medium schools but have all diligently attended the compulsory Bahasa Malaysia classes; while this, of course, does not put us on par with those who sit for the SPM paper, is it really necessary at this stage of our tertiary education for us to memorise, for example, a list of peribahasa (proverbs) and their meaning and usage, in addition to studying themes, plots and values of the literature component containing novels and all traditional prose, poems, short stories and drama that is taught at both Form Four and Form Five levels? It is too taxing to say the least.

The last thing we want to do after a long week of medical classes is to listen to a tuition teacher expounding on the value of memorising “Pendahuluan, Penutup, Ayat judul, Ungkapan” or understanding the art of “isi tersurat, tersirat” etc! So we are thinking, why not make this more relevant to our future practice? Instead of SPM BM we propose an alternative BM competency examination that is less pedagogical and more practical for students who wish to become civil servants but are not well-equipped enough to sit for the SPM BM paper.

For example, an IELTS (International English Language Testing System) equivalent for BM could be used to gauge our BM competency level. Alternatively, an oral examination can be introduced to examine communication skills. We are very certain the Education Ministry is perfectly equipped to formulate such an examination.

As mentioned earlier, we are perfectly fine with the government’s expectation that doctors wishing to practice in Malaysia have a good command of the national language. We are only taking this initiative to voice our concern over the form of BM testing because of our time constraints and an already high workload.


Kuala Lumpur