From The Star,
Published: Sunday May 18, 2014 MYT 12:00:00 AM
Updated: Sunday May 18, 2014 MYT 8:31:05 AM
Overworked and underpaid USM specialists leaving for greener pastures
BY CHRISTINA CHIN
PETALING JAYA: Medical specialists lecturing in public universities are leaving for greener pastures after years of being overworked and underpaid, according to Malaysian Medical Association president Datuk Dr N.K.S. Tharmaseelan.
Describing the exodus as a “tragedy”, he said 38 senior clinical lecturers left Universiti Sains Malaysia’s Kubang Kerian campus in Kelantan in the past six months.
He claimed that some clinical lecturers, who are specialists and qualified surgeons with many years of experience, were stuck for more than 20 years without a promotion.
Those working with the Education Ministry performed as specialist doctors, lecturers and researchers, but received lower pay and fewer perks and promotions than if they were treating patients or teaching at a private university, he said.
The unhappiness amongst medical doctors lecturing at public universities is nothing new. Despite additional duties of teaching and researching, these doctors have to perform their clinical duties at the attached teaching hospital. All these for an equivalent salary as compared to their counterparts in the Ministry of Health. Teaching allowance is only a pittance.
Private institutions do have an advantage as currently none of them have an attached teaching hospital. They use existing government hospitals for teaching. These hospitals have a full team of specialists and doctors under the purview of the Ministry of Health, to run the services there. Therefore clinical duties are usually kept to the minimum , while teaching becomes the focus. Conversely, University Malaya, Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia and Universiti Sains Malaysia have an attached university hospital offering the full complement of services. These services are maintained by the same pool of lecturers.
Research is am important component in university environments. However, with other commitments, sacrifices has to be made. Once can either forego your promotion, which is based on publications, or sacrifice your clinical practice, leaving it to junior officers to hold the fort there. Even teaching may take a back seat for many senior researchers and aspiring professors. There is just not enough staff to go around. Squeezing the existing staff with unreasonable research KPIs will only drive many away, unless the universities staff the hospitals separately. There has to be some sort of separation if we are truly to achieve research universities of international standards. Otherwise, some component of the services rendered will be compromised.
In Malaysia, rather than consolidating its resources, we are diluting it further with more medical schools. Many of these newer medical schools do have dubious teaching standards. It may be important to consolidate and merge some of theses medical schools in the future. They are squabbling over the same pool of medical lecturers. Overseas lecturers may not be able to fully comprehend the local environment with language barrier an important hindrance to bedside teaching.
Finally, luring talents from abroad and maintaining local expertise should go in tandem. Spending an exorbitant sum to woo back our talents but doing nothing to keep them in areas of need is just going to be a complete waste of time and money. Transparency and controversial policies remain a thorn that will forever be a barrier to many of our specialists returning. It may be more prudent to focus on grooming talent on our shores with training opportunities for all. Improving human capital management by the Government is crucial if we are to solve our woes.
Do something now, before we are left with a dilapidated service and irreparable damage.