November 24, 2020

Consideration for specialists

4 min read

I AM called to speak up on this matter after a lot of deliberation. I know this concern is shared by many medical doctors, yet, due to our training and our ingrained belief that patients and service have to come first, we don’t talk about this issue openly despite much discontentment and frustration among government doctors.

Most of us chose to join this profession to save lives and serve the people. We knew becoming doctors could compromise our time with the family or time for our own self-development, yet we chose this profession regardless. Many of us did so with the hope that the future would look better as we moved along our career path, from house officer to medical officer to specialist and, finally, to consultant.

However, the sad reality is that the higher we go in this profession, the more difficult it is to spend time with our families due to the way the current placement system for government doctors is managed.

It is understandable that house officers (HOs) and medical officers (MOs) can be placed in any hospital in any state for training. During this time, HOs and MOs are expected to move around in different areas to gain as much experience as possible until they decide what area of medicine they want to specialise in.

As a specialist or consultant, however, being moved around to different states is disheartening. This is more so when we know that the Health Ministry can retain specialists/consultants within their own states but instead chooses to shuffle us around. It’s only natural for human beings to want some form of stability at some point in their lives to plan for the future, so being moved around is distressing for many of us.

It is reasonably well-known that the lack of doctors in some specialisations makes it even more difficult for us to be placed near our families – many of us have accepted this fact. However, the rigid system that does not allow us to swap posts with each other and that strictly does not allow an appeal to move within two years is entirely frustrating. To make it worse, the two-year minimum has, many a time, been adhered to rather loosely by the ministry, with administrators playing the “your service is needed here” card.

Another issue I want to raise is how doctors who are single are treated; apparently, it’s easier to move single doctors around than married ones. This just underlines the lack of fairness in decision- making. For one thing, someone who is single could still have family responsibilities, such as caring for elderly parents or a disabled family member, and would need to remain near their families too.

This letter, however, is not about pitting single doctors against married ones. Instead, it is to call attention to the issue of the lack of specialists and consultants in many states and districts, and the fact that the Health Ministry is not managing its human resources well.

This could lead to less productive specialists/consultants who are worrying about their families and feeling guilty about how little time they can spend with them.

Many doctors’ families are already strained by our long working hours, so placing us away from the family only makes matters worse for us and for our parents, spouses, siblings and children alike. This certainly would lead to a loss of morale.

There is also a cost inefficiency in terms of funding the doctors’ transfers in and out of the state when they could have possibly stayed within their own state.

Furthermore, many doctors in this situation face financial constraints since they have to maintain two separate households, one for ourselves and one for our families. There are also travel expenses incurred just to see our families.

In the long term, there might also be a loss of manpower as specialists/consultants may decide to leave the profession and explore other areas that offer stability so that they can maintain family ties.

Of course, service to the people is very important, but nowadays, when many are speaking up about achieving a work-life balance, it is high time that doctors, too, add their voice. It is vital that the Health Ministry start helping doctors with their appeal for transfers, as these can prevent the brain drain to other sectors.

For states lacking in specialists/consultants in a particular specialisation, I suggest having doctors work in rotation, being regularly swapped to avoid burn out from staying away from their families for too long. New batches of specialists/consultants should replace seniors until the next group comes out, and this can ensure that everyone will get to return to their families sooner.

Please don’t think that we

specialists/consultants are not happy to serve the rakyat. This letter is about highlighting the fact that we have been serving the people diligently despite having to leave our families. We have been serving everyone to the best of our abilities, so isn’t it about time that specialists and consultants are taken care of too?

We are not asking much of the Health Ministry, just to be able to stay with our families and spend quality time with them.

TORN-BETWEEN-FAMILY-AND-SERVICE SPECIALIST

Kuala Lumpur

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