Letter from a Contract Medical Officer…

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Received via WhatsApp.

I am a Contract Medical Officer. I do not have job security and my future appears bleak. Because of the fact that I am not a Permanant Medical Officer, my contract may not be renewed at the whim of my employer (Ministry of Health, Malaysia) and I do not have a chance to further my studies to specialise in a Masters program.
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During this pandemic, most of the frontline doctors that the public come into contact are Contract Medical Officers. We risk our own health while donned in stuffy personal protective gear to serve our public. We have no grievances in serving the public as this is our calling. Seeing our patient recover is our greatest joy. Many would have seen the smile in our eyes (because we are all wearing masks) when we send our recovered patients back home. But little do people see when we silently shed tears for patients whom we fail to wrest from the hands of death.
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The public call us “heroes” but I beg to disagree. We are nothing more than mere humans. Like everyone else, we are of flesh and blood, we laugh and we cry, there are times when we are happy and times when we are worried. We also have parents, spouses, children. In the midst of all this chaos, as contract doctors, we do not wish for extra pay or bonus, we do not ask for medals or recognition. We only ask to be converted to Permanent Medical Officers. We only ask to be able to treat our patients wholeheartedly and not worry about whether our contract will be extended/terminated the following year. We only ask to be treated fairly, as with our Permanent Medical Officer colleagues, so that we have a chance to specialise through a Master programme and gain more knowledge/skills to help our patients.
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As a member of the public, you may ask “How does this affect me?”
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It affects the public deeply. Since 2016, the Government of Malaysia announced that all doctors who are hired henceforth will be on contract basis instead of being given a permanent position. This means that from 2016 onwards, the output of specialists will be greatly reduced. This is because the public sector is the only facility in Malaysia available to train specialist doctors and Contract Medical Officers do not have access to this system. In order to train a specialist doctor, it takes about 6 to 10 years. You may not feel the difference for now, but 10 to 20 years down the road, we would have a shortage of specialist doctors and this shortage cannot be made up in a short period of time. By then, where shall Malaysians, whom are ill, seek medical treatment from specialist doctors?
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Our Director-General of Health, Tan Sri Noor Hisham posted on his FB in 2019 (way before the pandemic outbreak) that Malaysia is facing a shortage of Health Care Workers. Due to the large numbers of patients, and the shortage of Health Care Workers, 1 in 3 doctors are showing symptoms of burnout. Ever since 2016, Contract Medical Officers have engaged various methods and institutions, such as Malaysian Medical Association, etc, to appeal to the Ministry of Health to switch Contract Medical Officers to Permanent Medical Officers. However, our appeals have not been heard, and no progress was made on this issue thus far. To make matters worse, the Ministry of Health recently released a statement suggesting that Contract Medical Officers that we can seek employment elsewhere to serve the nation. This seems to hint that the Ministry of Health is more than willing to let us go.
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This statement really hit us hard. It made us realise that we hold little value to the Ministry of Health. Therefore, Contract Medical Officers decided to organise #HartalDoktorKontrak. We will be handing in a memorandum with a list of requests from Contract Medical Officers to the Ministry of Health. The Ministry will be given a timeframe to reply to our requests or at least meet us in a public setting to initiate discussion to solve this long-standing issue. The Ministry failing which, will then Contract Medical Officers take part in #HartalDoktorKontrak to show solidarity on this issue. We would like to reassure the public that this will be a peaceful strike, and that we will ensure that we have enough manpower to make sure that the health care system is not compromised. After all, what are doctors without patients. No matter how bleak our future is, we shall never give up on our patients.
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If you manage to go through this long article, and sympathise with our cause, I beseech you, give this article a like and share it publicly so that more Malaysians are aware of the imminent danger that our healthcare system will face in years to come and the job security that Contract Medical Officers seek. Thank you!

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