Marooned in Sabah by the Ministry of Health

Concerned District Medical Officer

Modified 2 Oct 2019, 3:16 am

LETTER | I am one of the many medical officers serving in a district in Sabah. I have been serving here for almost 2 years, and like many collegues of mine, we gladly accepted the offer to leave our hometown (most of us are from the Semenanjung) as part of our service.

Most of us left our hometown and made sacrifices by leaving our spouses, children, elderly parents just to serve as we had promised.

But it is hard not to feel betrayed by the system since we barely feel like the Mimistry of Health (MoH) cares about us. I still remember vividly a few years ago, the officials from the MoH would fly overseas to talk to Malaysian students, persuading us to come home after we graduated and serve the country. I remember how they adviced us to serve in rural districts as it would make us ‘better doctors’. I can relate to this, but as a district medical officer (MO) myself, I can say that it is a yes and no.

I enjoy working as a district MO in Sabah. I love the local people and yes, I’ve learnt a lot from being a doctor here.

However, it saddens me whenever I think that the possibility of returning home after 2 years is slim. One of the main conditions for us to get transferred to our hometown/ Semenanjung is for us to complete our service in a rural district or in Sabah/Sarawak for at least 2 years.

My spouse back in KL has been very understanding; my lonely parents have been praying for my transfer every day. I’m sure many colleagues are going through the same thing. The expectation for us to be patient and stranded here for a long time is unreasonable. At the end of the day, most of us would like to return home to be with our beloved ones.

The only way to get transferred is to pass a postgraduate exam (an option I am attempting) and to have a replacement.

It is disheartening when I see most of my senior colleagues are unable to continue their service in Semenanjung even though they have spent way more than 2 years of their service here.

It has come to our attention that the main reason why most of us are still stranded here is because the MoH is unable to get ‘replacements’ for us. Nobody knows what is going on. There are rumours about 'floating medical officers' getting to stay in tertiary centres and in Semenanjung, while leaving us, who have worked longer in the system, stranded. ‘Floating medical officers’ are those that have completed their housemanship, but who are unable to get a permanent post as medical officer for unclear reasons. Hence, while they wait for their fate to become MOs, they will ‘float’/continue working in their current hospital as temporary MOs.

It is understandable if the reason behind the lack of replacement is because we do not have enough doctors. But we do have enough doctors, at least within the houseman and MOs' pool. I am disturbed knowing that many junior colleagues back in Semenanjung are still ‘floating’ in the same hospital for more than 6 months. Whenever this question is raised during any meeting, the same answer is given - "That is the problem with the higher-ups… MoH is not doing anything about it."

It is unjust and there’s a lack of sensitivity in MoH about the welfare of doctors. It is the elephant in the room and nobody is addressing it. Most of us are happy to do our part, but it’s easy to feel demotivated when the system is failing us.

More and more MOs are losing hope in the system and have entered the private sector for a brighter future. The ministry needs to clarify this situation and address the ‘floating MOs’ issue urgently.

The process of transition from housemanship to being a MO is crucial. It needs to be revised and solved to avoid further damage in the healthcare system. What I hope for is the MoH to be more transparent about this issue. As an integral part of the healthcare system, we deserve an explanation from the ministry.

The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.

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