It’s all over for some contract docs

it’s all over for some contract docs

FILE PHOTO: A photo illustration shows a French general practitioner holding a stethoscope in a doctor's office in Bordeaux January 7, 2015. REUTERS/Regis Duvignau/File Photo

PETALING JAYA: Dr Amy (not her real name) graduated with a medical degree in 2016 and has served with the Health Ministry as a contract doctor since 2017.

Seven years later, now aged 32, things look bleak for her – she is thinking of joining a private clinic as a general practitioner or leaving the medical field altogether to become a tuition teacher or look for a nine-to-five clerical job.

Dr Amy is one of many contract doctors who were not offered permanent positions by the Health Ministry even after serving for seven years. It has been a huge comedown for her.

“I studied medicine with very big dreams. I wanted nothing more than to continue to serve the ministry, but I think this is the end of the road. I will have to accept it with a heavy heart,” said Dr Amy, who served at a hospital in the Klang Valley.

She is from one of the earliest cohorts after the contract system was introduced in 2016 and has reached the maximum contract extension of seven years, who is now considering other options.

“It will be a challenge to switch fields but I am considering these options,” she said.

Some other doctors who belonged to the first three cohorts have also taken to social media to announce their departure from the Health Ministry following the end of the seven-year contract.

However, it is not known how many doctors from the December 2016, February 2017 and May 2017 cohorts had not been offered permanent positions.

As of Dec 31, 2023, there were 14,511 contract doctors comprising 6,478 house officers and 8,033 medical officers. It is estimated that between 2016 and now, there are over 30,000 contract officers in the civil service.

Between 2019 and 2023, the ministry had approved 9,822 permanent placements for medical officers. Between 2024 and 2025, some 6,000 permanent positions will be offered.

The contract system was introduced in 2016 to address the glut in medical graduates. Contracts were offered to medical officers for three years with extensions of up to four years, making it a total of seven years.

Eight years after the implementation of the system, medical groups still have little idea about the success of the contract system.

Hartal Doktor Kontrak spokesperson Dr Muhammad Yassin said the Health Ministry has never released data on how many doctors whose contracts have expired were not offered permanent positions.

He said that although the contract system was implemented in good faith to solve the issue of the long wait for postings for medical graduates, it ended up being a failed system due to poor planning and lack of measures for improvement.

“Now, we are paying the price as many contract doctors have left the service and those remaining have to face an enormous burden and workload. This adds to work stress, which leads to many leaving the service. It’s a vicious cycle,” he said.

“There is a serious problem and we have to admit the contract system is full of flaws. It is time to revert to the ‘permanent positions for all’ system and find a mechanism to improve working conditions to keep doctors in service.“We also need a plan to attract more youngsters to join medical schools. There are fewer medical graduates now.”

Malaysian Medical Association (MMA) president Dr Azizan Abdul Aziz also felt the contract system cannot be called a success.

“It failed to provide job security and career certainty. Also, for a doctor to specialise, they need to remain in the system for a longer period of time,” she said.

“The MMA had proposed a longer contract of up to 10 years as this would provide the doctors with some stability. This would be long enough for them to pursue specialisation through the system.

“But remuneration and perks also need to be looked into. It should at least match their permanent counterparts.”

Independent healthcare advocate and former contract doctor Dr Sean Thum said that at a time when hospitals across the country are short of doctors, there must be some flexibility in the government’s employment measures.

“We now have doctors with seven years of experience being let go because their tenure is up. We must find ways to retain their service,” he said.

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