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Contract doctors look to election vows as they put off plans to leave

Many have already planned to resign or move to greener pastures, but are waiting for the outcome of the election before making a final decision.

Nur Hasliza Mohd Salleh
3 minute read
A contract doctor holds up a placard during a peaceful strike to protest the treatment of contract medical officers at Hospital Kuala Lumpur in July last year.
A contract doctor holds up a placard during a peaceful strike to protest the treatment of contract medical officers at Hospital Kuala Lumpur in July last year.

For four years now, Nur Khaliesa has been working as a contract medical officer at a government hospital in Kedah. 

She had applied numerous times to be absorbed as a permanent staff at the health ministry, but each time, her application was rejected without any explanation by the Public Services Commission.

In June, she made up her mind to say goodbye to Malaysia and to explore better career opportunities in other countries like Brunei or Singapore.  

This was a hard decision to make, even though she had spent more than five years in Australia as a medical student before coming back home to work. 

"I had already prepared all of the documents I would need to start work at a new place," she said. 

"I planned to resign sometime early next year, then take a few weeks off for a holiday before going back to work."

But after going over the manifestos presented by political parties ahead of the election, she decided to put her plans on hold, at least for now. 

"I want to see what happens to the promises they made to the contract doctors," she said. 

"I really hope a party that cares about the health sector is given the mandate this time. Take care of the dumping of contract doctors and establish a special commission for the health sector. 

"We don't want a government that promises to resolve this problem and then ends up making a decision that doesn't benefit anyone." 

At least 13 of her contract doctor friends are also waiting to see what happens at the election before deciding whether to quit or to look for work in another country. 

Over 23,000 medical, dental and pharmacy officers are expected to cast their votes on Nov 19 – all of them young doctors who have waited a long time to be absorbed as permanent staff who would then be able to work towards becoming specialists in their fields. 

Pakatan Harapan, for its part, has promised to tackle the issue of contract doctors if it forms the government after the general election. 

Perikatan Nasional, meanwhile, has offered to form a health services commission to address the problems faced by doctors, and to increase allocations for the health sector.

It has also pledged to resolve staffing issues and bullying cases, and to focus on the welfare of doctors in addition to addressing the shortage of medical specialists. 

The welfare of contract doctors has also been raised by Barisan Nasional's candidate in Sungai Buloh, Health Minister Khairy Jamaluddin. 

A contract doctor from Terengganu said he would not hesitate to move to Taiwan if a party that does not care about the health sector is voted into government. 

Teo, who has been working since 2017, said he and several of his friends had prepared their resignation letters as early as August this year.

They initially planned to submit these at the end of the year. 

"But when the general election was announced, we were excited because there were manifestos that included specific promises for the health sector," Teo said. 

"This could be our chance to remain in Malaysia without needing to leave our families in order to make a living."  

He said a government that prioritised the health sector would build a better country as health was the key to public well-being. 

"I will wait," he said. "I hope that leaders who are ready to take these issues into hand will be voted in to form the next government. 

"Taiwan can wait. I want to stay here, in my own country." 

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