WHILE we are in the midst of battling the current spike of Covid-19 cases in the country, issues pertaining to our frontliners, especially the so-called contract medical officers (CMO) are being hotly debated in this space.
As a specialist who has been in the civil service for almost 20 years, I’m grateful that I managed to pursue a master's programme under Hadiah Latihan Persekutuan (HLP) after my housemanship and a couple of years as a medical officer (MO) in the anaesthetic department. It was quite a seamless transition back then.
Nowadays, competition to enter postgraduate studies is really tough and complicated, I can understand why CMOs are so anxious about their future in the medical field.
Let’s start with the gist of the matter. A lot of complaints were directed towards the criteria needed for CMOs to be offered permanent posts. While those who serve in remote areas will have an edge, bear in mind that it’s common for surgeons in tertiary hospitals to come over to small district hospitals to do complicated operations requiring sub-speciality expertise so that rural patients won’t have to travel far.
The same goes for other departments. At this moment, anaesthesia departments from different states are sending their workforce to help out in Sabah. Each and every life in this country is precious irrespective of where they’re living. Different places have their own sets of problems and provide different kind of challenges.
Once CMOs are offered a permanent post, they’ll be promoted to UD44, which comes with a salary increment that would make them eligible to apply for HLP.
Unfortunately, other CMOs will be stuck at UD41. To make matters worse, they’re not allowed to sit for entrance exams to further their studies in master specialist programmes since they’re not acknowledged as permanent staff. So, the only way is to go for parallel pathways, such as Member of the Royal College of Physicians (MRCP), Member of the Royal College of Surgeons (MRCS) and etc.
Mind you, they need to dig deep into their pockets to sit for the papers, and some just give up halfway because they cannot afford to pay or juggle between their studies and heavy workloads.
Since employment in the civil service is under the jurisdiction of the Public Service Commission, hopefully a fair solution for everyone will be achieved.
I wasn’t privy to the statistics on how many CMOs have been given their permanent post, although it is admittedly few and far between. But leveling the playing field will give them better perks and allow them to fight for places in public universities to become specialists in various fraternities.
Upon completion of housemanship, all CMOs should be promoted to UD43 where the relative salary discrepancies are somewhat negligible. Regardless of whether one is a permanent or contract officer, one carries similar burdens and responsibilities. In fact, if everyone is promoted to UD43, whether or not they get a permanent post is no longer an issue.
The next step is to give them equal opportunities to sit for entrance exams for postgraduate study and apply for HLP. It takes a great deal of time and effort to prepare for the exams, so whoever made it through are bright and talented.
With regards to the glut of doctors graduating each year in our country, this has been a problem for more than 10 years. It needs political will to regulate not only our local medical schools but also those agencies offering medical degrees abroad.
Stringent academic requirements and due diligence must be exercised so that only deserving students will be selected, or else there will be no jobs available let alone job security in the medical field 10 years down the line.
I’m open to brickbats and criticisms for my suggestions since we cannot satisfy everyone, and I’m trying to articulate my thoughts reasonably. But I can foresee these ideas boosting the spirits of our CMOs while they brave the third wave of Covid-19 as frontliners who are no longer being kept in the dark with uncertainties about their future in the medical field.
Hopefully, we can win this battle together.
Anaesthetist, Batu Pahat
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