Comment: By V.K.CHIN
THE Health Ministry's decision to extend housemanship by a year is aimed at providing better exposure to new doctors in all sectors of medicine.
Such training will be extremely useful since they would be better equipped to practise medicine whether in government service or private practice later on.
They should therefore view this latest ruling positively since this will give them more confidence in treating patients. They cannot afford to make mistakes.
However, many young doctors who intend to go into private practice as soon as they have completed their housemanship and three-year compulsory service will have to remain in the government for five instead of four years.
It will not matter to government scholars who have to serve out their bond, which is likely to be for 10 years, so the extension will not be an inconvenience.
Those who studied medicine on their own would certainly find this annoying since their intention is just to fulfil their statutory requirements. Otherwise, they will not be able to get the practising licence issued by the Malaysian Medical Council.
Many of them have borrowed money for their medical studies and they will find their government pay and allowances insufficient to meet their financial commitments.
Though Health Minister Datuk Seri Dr Chua Soi Lek said he would try to get them into a higher grade, the amount may still not come to much.
Those directly involved will consider this as another year of cheap labour. This means most of them will only be able to quit government service when they are around 30.
Of course the government can get round this by reducing the three-year compulsory service to two thus retaining the four-year period. This is unlikely to happen unless the ministry feels comfortable that this will not lead to any serious shortage.
The downside is that many of those studying medicine overseas on their own may opt to stay back instead of returning home thus depriving the nation of their services.
This will be a loss but since they are financing their studies, there is nothing the authorities can do to force them to come back.
But it cannot also be denied that a year's housemanship is definitely too short to train a new graduate in all areas of medicine. By the time they become medical doctors, they will be dealing with people's lives.
They must therefore be well prepared for the task ahead and they must be competent enough to face such challenges either in government or private practice.
The ministry has a responsibility to ensure that people’s health is protected and they must get the best possible treatment at least in terms of diagnosis in hospitals or clinics.