Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Revamp the Medical Scholarship System

Revamp the Medical Scholarship System
By: Dr. Helmy Haja Mydin

The bickering among stakeholders regarding the disbursement of Public Service Department (PSD) scholarships occurs as regularly as the eruptions of Old Faithful at Yellowstone National Park. Arguments are often raised about who should receive the scholarships. The loudest are usually parents who decry the system for failing to provide their child with a scholarship that the child “obviously” deserves.

Debates tend to be more heated about the opportunity to read medicine abroad. It is hardly surprising that the nebulous manner in which PSD scholarships are given out is unsavoury to many, as the ultimate prize is not merely a degree, but a career in a profession that is deemed (rightly or wrongly) by many parents to be both prestigious and lucrative.

This annual cycle of ambiguity needs to be stopped. The uncertainty leads to chronic dissatisfaction, further dividing Malaysians along racial lines. We need an overhaul of the scholarship disbursing system, possibly with a different system for each profession (specifically for medicine).

First, PSD medical scholarships should be awarded following identification of needs within the health-care service. The PSD scholarships should serve as a vehicle for long-term investment in human capital for public medical services.

There should be a clear distinction between offering scholarships to balance economic discrepancies between ethnic groups and scholarships that are offered to fill an identifiable national human resource gap. It would therefore make sense from both financial and administrative point of views for PSD to concentrate on the latter, and leave the issue of redistributive strategies to other agencies such as Mara.

With this key point in mind, it follows that PSD should offer scholarships based solely on merit.

Various factors should be taken into account when the issue of merit is discussed, and clear guidelines regarding these factors should be issued so that applicants are familiar with them and applications can be tailored accordingly.

While there should be a minimum academic requirement, these requirements should be focused on subjects that are relevant to the study of medicine, namely the science subjects. Extra-curricular activities, especially those involving positions of leadership, should also be weighted appropriately.

The interview should play an important role in choosing a potential scholar. Interviews allow an individual’s commitment, communication skills and ability to perform under pressure to be better gauged. These factors are arguably more essential for the practice of medicine than mere academic excellence.

The terms of the scholarship should be more specific with regards to expectations on results and post-graduation service. These should not be amenable to the whims of policymakers. For example, clear instructions should be given on the appropriate universities that scholars are allowed to apply to and these should be universities that offer degrees that are fit for purpose – these institutions should be chosen based on international recognition, and are not simply in the list due to political pressure.

But leeway should be given for the pursuit of postgraduate specialist training, as it is in this arena that Malaysia will be able to reap the most benefits from sending her scholars abroad.

Undergraduate medical degree courses will inevitably have relatively similar contents, but the actual practice of medicine in a postgraduate specialist setting will allow our scholars to be exposed to a different working ethos and to technological and management advancement that may not be as readily in Malaysia.

At the level of postgraduate specialist training, the PSD should send scholars to countries that are renowned for specific training needs that would be beneficial to the health-care system in Malaysia. For example, those wanting to specialise in trauma management could go to institutions in South Africa, while for palliative care the UK.

Scholars should have a clear idea of what they are signing up for. While the current service bond of ten years is seen by many to be unpalatable and should be reviewed, contracts should be adhered to as set out by the rule of law. Any resistance to serving the time that has been agreed upon should result in the repayment of the full amount that was spent on the individual’s education. Partial repayments, as is the practice, will only lead to the interpretation of the scholarship as a cheaper alternative to a bank loan.

We should bear in mind that PSD scholarships are a privilege and not a right for any one individual. It should be given to deserving individuals, and the implementation of a transparent and methodical manner of awarding these scholarships will go a long way in helping prevent misconceptions.


Dr Helmy Haja Mydin is Healthcare Policy Fellow at the Malaysia Think Tank (www.WauBebas.org)
Source: theSun, June 1, 2009
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1 comment:

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