A message for future doctors

Dr Timothy Cheng


LETTER | I write this in response to, "Studying medicine is hard but it's worth the effort", The Star, Nov 22. Many are saying that it is no longer worth it to be a doctor in Malaysia, especially with all the administrative uncertainties, joblessness, etc.

A significant number are considering working overseas in search of a better future. Having served for only a short seven years, here is my take on being a doctor in Malaysia.

You may have just started your journey in medical education, or sitting for professional exams next week but never forget the reason you started. If you are doing medicine because your parents told you to or for any other reason besides your own passion and desire, perhaps it's time to rethink and change your course in life. The road ahead is long and tough (as described in the next few paragraphs) - if your heart is not in it, you will not last the journey - consider another career path.


Remember that we are not the only ones that have studied hard and long. We are also not the only people who go to work before the sunrises and come back after it sets. Many others of different professions might even work harder than us (and have less sleep). Having a ''DR'' before our names should make us more humble and aware of our own weaknesses rather than a sense of entitlement and privilege. If your idea of becoming a doctor is to make fast money and gain status/power in society, please consider a career change.


Due to many factors, largely the failure of the administration and the system as a whole, you will face many hurdles in becoming a Malaysian doctor. You might have to wait up to a year before getting a job as a house officer. During this training period, expect to suffer (or benefit) from favouritism and a biased, misused evaluation/assessment system. Work hard because it is the right thing to do, but do not expect any recognition, and do not be surprised when colleagues that are under-performing or less competent escape corrective action.

Having completed housemanship, be prepared to be floating without a permanent position as a government officer. Entry into the postgraduate program may also be disorganized, uncertain and application processes may change from time to time. Expect bureaucracy and inefficiency especially when it comes to paperwork and application forms. Facilities and infrastructure may break down unexpectedly, and water/electricity supply may occasionally be cut off too.

Administration and system failures aside, training to be a doctor requires physical and mental strength and sacrifice. Do not expect regular working hours, because diseases, patients and distressed fetuses do not wear watches. Be prepared to skip that movie date, to have a few hours less sleep, to miss that family celebration/cultural festival, to go that extra mile for patients. This does not mean purposely depriving yourself of food and sleep - but to realize that some amount of sacrifice is necessary.

Thus, your responsibility now, whether medical student or house officer, is to give your best regardless of the circumstances around you. Gain as much knowledge and clinical experience as you can; organize and be a part of extracurricular activities; pick up some public speaking skills along the way and brush up on the English language. All this will help in your journey as a doctor, no matter how messy the road becomes (and even if you choose to migrate and work abroad).


The joy and satisfaction of practising medicine will come in its own time. A grateful tear from a patient or relative is sometimes enough to soothe the tired soul and a hungry stomach. A simple thank you from a patient after you have relieved their suffering (even temporarily) makes the long hours/on calls seem a little brighter. Helping a patient walk again lifts your heavy heart a little. Whether all this is worth it or not? The choice is yours.

Above all, do no harm.

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

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