1 in 5 trainee doctors quit in Malaysia, some become waiters instead

PETALING JAYA (THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK): One out of five doctors undergoing training in Malaysia quit each year, reflecting an alarming dropout rate despite the high cost of studying medicine.

Among those who have abruptly left the medical profession, some have become waiters while others run their own pasar malam stalls. One of them even took up a job as an air stewardess.

Deputy Health director-general Datuk Dr S. Jeyaindran said about 1,000 of the 5,000 housemen employed each year do not complete their two-year training stint. The number has been growing over the past three years, he added.

Some trainees said they have realised they are not suitable for the medical profession, while others said they were pressured into studying medicine by their parents. Other reasons cited include inability to work long hours and suffering from burnouts.

It may cost up to RM500,000 (S$186,000) to study medicine in Malaysia and up to RM1 million abroad.

Dr MH, 32, decided to leave after 14 months of training at a Klang Valley hospital because of the stressful work hours and lack of work-life balance.

"I was on call every other day and I realised that even after becoming a medical officer or specialist, the schedule would still be heavy. I didn't want that kind of lifestyle," she said. She is now working as a medical adviser in a pharmaceutical company.

However, Dr Jeyaindran pointed out that a houseman's workload in Malaysia is actually lighter than other countries - he or she takes charge of four to six patients in a ward, compared with eight to 12 in Singapore, Australia and the United States.

"Moreover, house officers in these countries work an average of 80 hours compared with the average of between 65 and 72 hours for Malaysian housemen," he said.

Another reason that drives future doctors away is the long wait to be posted as housemen.

With more medical students graduating each year, the average waiting time for posting is about six months and can be longer for popular choices like the Kuala Lumpur Hospital.

"With 10,000 housemen in all the 45 training hospitals nationwide, these hospitals have varying degrees of waiting periods except for hospitals in Sabah, Sarawak, Kelantan and Terengganu," Dr Jeyaindran said.

He said the ministry must explore other ways that allow for greater flexibility in employing housemen to replace those who had left. The current process can take more than a year, he added.