November 11, 2010 by Pagalavan Letchumanan
For Future Doctors: Housemanship, Medical Officer and Postgraduate Training (Part 3)
Let’s look at the postgraduate training in Malaysia. I have written about housemanship, district/rural postings and problems of oversupply of doctors in the near future. The issue of oversupply of doctors by 2015 will lead to another very big issue: postgraduate training. Many of the budding doctors and medical students are not aware that the postgraduate training in Malaysia has many limitations and problems. At this point of time, most postgraduate trainings are dependent on Master’s programme conducted by the local universities. Once upon a time, we were totally dependent on UK-based exams and training but unfortunately we lost it along the way. Currently, only MRCP (UK) – Internal Medicine, MRCPCH (UK) – Paediatric and MRCOG (UK) can be done in Malaysia. FRCS (for surgeons) used to be available to Malaysians but not anymore. None of our hospitals are recognised as a training centre for FRCS, which is now known as MRCS. Thus, for any surgical field in Malaysia, you will need to do Master’s programme!
MRCP (UK) – Internal Medicine
Membership of the Royal College of Physicians (UK) is a well-known exam all over the whole. It has a very strong reputation as an entry exam for speciality training in UK as well as in other parts of the world. It is conducted regularly, usually 3 times a year in various countries. Malaysia is one of the centres for the MRCP exams, all 3 parts.
MRCP Part 1 can be taken about a year after your graduation. It is a theory paper. After passing your Part 1, you need to clear your Part 2 (written paper) and Part 3 (clinical) within 7 years. It is usually coordinated by University of Malaya, where the exams are usually held. Just for your info, the passing rate for MRCP (UK) is always around 45-50% worldwide! You need to have a proposer to sit for these exams, who can verify that you have undergone sufficient training to sit for the exam. If you fail miserably, your proposer will be notified.
Since MRCP (UK) is not a specialist exam in the UK, the Ministry of Health, Malaysia only recognises and gazette’s you as a specialist after undergoing further training of 18 months post MRCP (UK). You will need to submit a log book and recommendation by your HOD before being gazetted. This rule applies for all other overseas degrees which include MRCPCH and MRCOG. You need to undergo this gazettement process in order for you to be recognised as a Physician by the National Specialist Register (NSR).
MRCPCH is similar to MRCP (UK) but meant for those who wants to become a Paediatrician. It‘s examination structure is similar to MRCP (UK).
MRCOG has 2 parts but the second part has both written and clinical component. However, you need to undergo training in O&G department for at least 4 years before being allowed to sit for Part 2 exams. One of the major issues in sitting for MRCOG is the fact that there are not many MRCOG holders in MOH to sign as a proposer for you!
Now, this is where a big problem is going to appear soon. For all other fields, you are totally dependent on Master’s programme. This includes all surgical fields. Master’s programme is a fixed 4 year programme.
In order for you to be eligible to apply for the Master’s programme, you should have completed at least 3 years of service with good SKT marks of at least 85% and above, recommendation from Head of Department and confirmed in service. You also need to attend an exam or an interview before being selected for certain disciplines.
The major problem that I foresee in the future will be the number of places that are being offered. As of this year, the total number of places available is only 600, all disciplines included. Imagine, with 6000 new doctors coming into the market every year from now onwards, only 10% is going to get into the Master’s programme annually. Furthermore, you must understand that the selection process is never transparent, the typical Malaysian scenario as well as the quota system! Most of it is done by the Universities.
The government is planning to increase the number to 800 next year but the situation is rather critical in the Universities as there are not many Senior Professors to supervise the programme. I must say that the standard of Master’s graduates have dropped significantly over the last 5-10 years. We have Master’s graduates who can’t do surgery but have passed the exams! I just hope that the Master’s programme do not become another “specialists mill” like our undergraduate medical schools!
There are 2 types of Master’s programme, the open and closed system. In the closed system, you will do the entire 4 years within the university, like in UKM Hospital, UH and USM Hospital. The open system may have various programmes, like 2 years in MOH hospitals and another 2 years in the Universities etc. You may even do the entire 4 years in MOH hospitals for some of the fields.
After completing your Master’s programme, you need to undergo another 6 months of gazettement process before being recognised as a specialist. Furthermore, you will be bonded for 5-7 years for receiving scholarship during the programme, which is compulsory!
With the advancement in medical field, every discipline now has subspecialty training. As such, everyone will try to do certain subspecialty after gazettment as a specialist by MOH. Generally, the subspecialist training is about 3 years except for certain field like Cardiothoracic and Urology which may take 4 years. Again, whether you get a place or not depends on availability of post and demand for that particular field. For example, the waiting time for Gastroenterology training can even go as far as 1-2 years.
Recently, to overcome this major problem, MOH has taken another step backwards. You can only apply for subspecialty training 1 year after you have been gazetted as a specialist. For MRCP holders, this means 2 and half years after passing MRCP (UK)!
Usually, the subspecialty training is divided into 2 parts, the first part (the first 2 years) will be done locally and the 2nd part (remaining 1 year) will be done overseas. The MOH will provide a fully paid scholarship for overseas training of 1 year but you will be bonded for 3 years. If you have received undergraduate scholarship and Master’s scholarship, you will be bonded a total of 20 years in service!!
One good advantage that we have is Singapore. Unfortunately, only UKM and UM undergraduate degrees are recognised in Singapore. Our Master’s degrees are NOT recognised elsewhere. Thus, we would not be able to work in Singapore with any other medical degrees or even with our Master’s degree.
However, Singapore does recognise MRCP, MRCPCH, MRCOG and MRCS. Thus, if you have any of these degrees, it supersedes the undergraduate degree and you should be able to get a job in Singapore. Singapore is also a recognised centre for MRCS Part 3 training, which you can’t do in Malaysia. So, if you have MRCS Part 1 & 2, you can go to Singapore to finish your MRCS training and sit for the Part 3.
I must say that Singapore’s postgraduate training is more structured and organised with their BST (Basic Specialist Training) and AST (Advanced Specialist Training) programmes. I have written about this in my MMA article “Back from the Future: From 1st world to 3rd world”.
For all of you out there; budding doctors, medical students, houseofficers and medical officers; the future is very bleak for the medical field in Malaysia. The oversupply of doctors will get to you sooner or later. My advice to those who insist on doing medicine for passion is to choose an undergraduate course that is recognised internationally. Then, pursue a postgraduate degree that is also recognised internationally. If not, you will end up with a lot of frustration in the future. Jobless doctors in the future will be a reality!!!