Depleting Specialists in Government Service

20 May 2014

EditorialThe press has been highlighting the plight of depletion in medical specialists in government service. Often times, the fault is misdirected to the doctors, who were presumed to have been lured by “lucre”. This exact word was used by The Star, a local newspaper in its report regarding this issue.

Lucre means money, especially when regarded as sordid or distasteful or gained in a dishonourable way.

The word is inappropriate and hardly the descriptive term for reasons for which a doctor leaves the university or public service. It is derogatory in my opinion. Market forces affect the healthcare industry similarly to the corporate world. If one gets a presumed better offer, he leaves his current job. It is happening daily in the corporate world. The healthcare sector is no different.

Perhaps then, it would make sense to look into the work environment and its remuneration. It would be foolish to expect civil servants, especially doctors, to stay when offers from elsewhere is so much more lucrative. The question that begs to be answered is “How can we improve the situation for doctors?”.

I think simple measures go a long way. Although money is an important factor, research has shown that this is hardly the only reason why doctors leave. From feeling unappreciated to lack of career advancement, these are among the top reasons for leaving when asked. So why are we not addressing these issues adequately?

It all boils down to leadership. Everyone from the Prime Minister, Minister of Health, Minister of Education, Director Generals of Health and Education, state health directors, hospital directors to department heads, have failed to provide leadership in this role. Pushing the bug from one agency to another is the classic modus operandi of this government. No one is taking the bull by its horns.

Sadly, even the Malaysian Medical Association is often toothless and has failed to garner recognition as the sole legitimate representative of doctors in public service.

After years of neglect, this issue has finally been brought to light. Can the government respond well to this crisis? Or would it just evaporate with time, hoping as usual that things will correct itself. Unfortunately, failure to address this expediently is a calamity in the making. As it is, medical schools at public universities are inadequately staffed and existing personnel are being stretched to breaking point.