AS a foreign medical graduate who worked overseas for seven years and now in Malaysia for the past 27, I was surprised and bemused by the furore over the introduction of contracts for house officers (HOs) by the Health Ministry in December 2016. Since then, many of this first batch of 1,219 contract HOs have completed their two-year tenure, resulting in a surge in “floating contract medical officers” (MOs) in the hospitals where they were placed. Effectively, a solution introduced to deal with too many medical graduates has merely postponed the problem by two years.
I am currently helping my daughter to apply for a medical job in another country, and I would like to give my opinion on contract medical jobs. Under the United Kingdom’s National Health Service, all medical posts are contract jobs. While housemanship is almost guaranteed by the parent medical school, post-housemanship doctors will have to apply for jobs. A cycle then ensues involving the preparation of curriculum vitae (CV) and cover letters, interviews, rejections and finally a job offer.
In order to improve one’s chances of getting a job, the CV could be beefed up by obtaining distinctions and honours degree at undergraduate level, winning prizes and awards, publishing research papers, pursuing postgraduate degrees and learning various medical procedures.
In other words, contract jobs promote healthy competition and continuous professional development right from the undergraduate level. Furthermore, cover letters have to be well thought-out, interview skills have to be honed, favourable referees contacted and networking enhanced regardless of its positive and negative connotations. These are important life skills required in the job market.
Another way to increase the chance of getting employed is to cast one’s net more widely, meaning that one must not be too choosy about locality and specialty, the latter at the MO level.
The Health Ministry could delegate the recruitment drive for contract medical jobs to local hospitals or health authorities who could then put up the advertisements based on their local needs, freeing the ministry to concentrate on national issues. In this day and age, advertisements, application forms and cover letters could all be uploaded and processed on a common online portal.
Once a particular post has been filled, the local health authority could then inform the Public Service Department (PSD) for documentation of compulsory service.
Rural placements could be linked to urban jobs to ensure that rural areas are not neglected. After all, rural healthcare facilities provide training in more hands-on patient management whereas the ivory towers emphasize the more academic aspects.
In order for the contract system to be accepted and implemented, much manpower planning has to be done by the PSD and Health Ministry’s human resource department.
The previous system of permanent medical posts allocated by the ministry served Malaysia well when there was a dearth of medical graduates. Now, with the huge number of medical students graduating every year, it is time to embrace the meritocratic contract system.